Instruction & Curriculum

We Teach Children, Not Curriculum

What happens when you feel more committed to the curriculum than the kids you teach? I’ve been thinking about this lately. It is my 11th year teaching, but it is my first time feeling immense pressure to keep up to a curriculum pacing calendar.
For those who don’t know, a pacing calendar is a tool used by curriculum publishing companies like Harcourt and/or schools and districts to let teachers know which lesson they should be on each day of school. In some places, these pacing calendars are incredibly strict. I once heard from a teacher in Kalamazoo, Michigan that in his district teachers were expected to follow the pacing calendar exactly. On a given day, a kindergarten teacher would be teaching the same reading lesson as every other kindergarten teacher in Kalamazoo.
Proponents of this kind of oversight argue in favor of it because it provides accountability for teachers and also provides consistency for children. Like a lot of ideas in education, it makes more sense in theory than in practice.
Like a lot of ideas in education, it makes more sense in theory than in practice. Click To Tweet
I’m personally surprised I’ve made it this far into my teaching career without having a strict pacing guide. In my first school, we were told which skills and standards to teach each week, but beyond this, we had a lot of autonomy over how to teach them. This year though, I received a calendar that tells me which day I’m supposed to be completing each topic or theme in reading, writing, and math. The calendar also indicates when assessment scores are due. As I’ve fallen two, three, and five days behind, I’ve felt more stressed and insecure.
The problem with calendars like mine is they are often not built to accommodate real life. In real life, field trips, picture day happen and teaching has to be adjusted.  For example, one day I broke up two separate fights after lunch. Some days, the kids just don’t get what I’m trying to teach, and I need to regroup and try it another way tomorrow.
With the pacing calendar, I feel a lot of pressure to keep moving forward with the curriculum, no matter what has transpired in my class that day. I feel more obligated to the curriculum instead of the children.
I feel more obligated to the curriculum instead of the children. Click To Tweet
This year I’m teaching a new math curriculum from Pearson called Envision Math. It’s a fine curriculum. I don’t like it more or less than others I’ve used.
The main challenge, as always, is that about three-quarters of my students are one or more grades behind. It is my 11th year teaching, and I still haven’t quite figured out the right solution to this problem. I want to prepare my students for grade-level mastery. But I need to help them master prerequisite skills first. The pacing calendar doesn’t help.
The pacing calendar told me to start the year with multiplication. We’ve spent the past 50-something days working on various strategies for multiplication and division, and I’m seeing progress. But we’re about five days behind, and my kids definitely need more practice. They need more practice with addition too. About one-third of my kids can’t add or subtract within 20 without a pencil and paper.
And these are just the academic needs I feel pressured to rush past.
We have 15 minutes for morning circle each day, but beyond that, my pacing calendar doesn’t leave time for teaching about emotions, conflict resolution, or understanding the scary events shaping my students’ lives. I need more time to teach my kids about setting boundaries, saying sorry, and standing up for what’s right. I want more time for my kids to practice working in teams and cooperating.
All these need to happen on the good days. There are days when my kids are dealing with intense emotions from something that happened at home or maybe during lunchtime. Sometimes as many as half the kids are upset and overwhelmed. On days like this, I want to throw out the lesson plan. But I feel anxious about falling further behind.
As I write this, I know I will have to find a way to integrate these so-called “soft skills” into reading, writing, and math. I don’t necessarily begrudge this. As an elementary school teacher, I know that social-emotional learning needs to be woven in throughout the day.
But, ultimately, I am frustrated, because the pacing calendar represents our school’s priorities for learning. And the priority seems to be the curriculum. And we don’t teach a curriculum, we teach children.

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