Dear Sarah,

What are your thoughts about teachers re-using the same curriculum every year? Is this lazy?

Sincerely,

Constantly Concerned

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Dear Constantly Concerned,

Your question is poignant in so many ways, not least of which are the often thought and seldom spoken myths it unearths. It’s a question that forces us to ask more questions about curriculum, about the wisdom of constantly being in flux and if laziness comes from saying, “enough.” Let’s do some unpacking!

What is the curriculum? Before we can address the re-teaching, I think we have to first ask ourselves what the real curriculum is. Is it the page we turn in the textbook? Is it the pacing guide our district tells us to follow? Is it the agreed upon units of study? Is it our favorite project we do each year? It’s true that depending on where you teach, the curriculum can be any of these things, although I would contend this is probably our surface curriculum. These are the “things” we often use to determine if we’re covering enough content or if we’re teaching effectively. (I mean, I can still remember those years when I believed a sense of pride about my teaching came from being able to say my students covered extra content, when the truth was, my young teacher self was only assigning more, not teaching better.)

Rather, I think we need to pay closer attention to the real curriculum, to what students are actually learning. Are they learning how to get more points on assignments or are they learning how to connect ideas or concepts? Are they learning how to store facts long enough to make it through a quiz or are they learning to synthesize, transfer and apply new understanding? The myth about curriculum is that it’s what we teach, but really, it’s who we teach: our students. And the lessons they learn mirror what we spend the most time doing.

Are we getting more precise or more stagnant? In other words, are we becoming better teachers because we’re growing in expertise with our content or do we become stagnant, even stale, if we teach the same thing over and over? When I think about this question, I think about the way I read books. There are some books I love, but I probably won’t read again. There are others I abandon part-way through. Still others are worth a read every year because they continue to change as I do. I’m not sure curriculum is much different.

Some content is necessary to repeat year after year. It’s timeless, it’s worthwhile, it’s universal. The myth about re-using is that our learners are as fixed as the content. Sure, the dates haven’t changed, the definitions still apply, the books have the same endings, but our learners need new pathways. Which is precisely how we defy futility: we toil to make learning as relevant, as purposeful, as authentic as possible for the learners in front of us today. Not the ones we had last year, last week, or yesterday.

What (if anything) is lazy teaching? Let me just say that we teachers have impossible jobs. There’s always more, always another way, always a different solution. That said, I think we often get lulled into expending considerable energy on the wrong work. The myth of laziness is in seeing teachers and learners synonymously. I rarely come across truly lazy teachers, but any of us can succomb to being lazy learners, to choose comfortability over the necessary struggle of learning something new.

I think that’s the crux of this entire question: if we are robotically obedient to a curriculum of content, then we are vulnerable to overlooking the learners beside us. So instead of re-using, perhaps it’s a constant re-framing, instead of perceived laziness, perhaps it’s a dedication to learning beside our students instead of teaching to them.

Teach openly,

Together with Teacher2Teacher

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