Teaching on a Tightrope


Teaching sometimes feels like this, doesn't it?

I was speaking with one of my general education colleagues the other day about her concern that her students just weren’t getting it – in reading, in writing, in math. Nothing was sticking. I pointed out that, given the structure of the pacing calendars and curriculum map, it is very difficult to find time to repeat concepts past the one day they are expected to be taught. She agreed that more repetition would benefit the students.

I thought back to my general ed days. Immediately, the most glaring difference I could pinpoint between general ed and special ed was the way things are paced. In general ed, in many places, teachers are expected to follow a pacing calendar. Regardless of whether students are getting it, you teach today’s lesson today and tomorrow’s lesson tomorrow, end of story. Special educators have the leeway to go back and reteach. We do this or else many students will never get anything and school will be a blurry mess of nothingness. I wonder if many general ed classes (or at least pockets of students in those classes) are experiencing that blurry mess themselves.

Some questions come up in thinking about this.

What discretion should be allowed to general educators who feel their students would benefit from repetition of a lesson? 

Are the expectations in general education unrealistically tough (so that students shouldn’t be expected to get concepts right away) or are variables at play (students’/teachers’ abilities)? Are the expectations in special education too low?

What is the ultimate goal: to have deep understanding of ideas or only the basics? (Common Core is supposedly going to address this).

Are all teachers approaching lessons and concepts in various ways so that they stick? (The more four-legged animals a child sees, the more likely they are to identify them as what they are, rather than call all four-legged animals “dogs,” for instance).

Do we need to reassess methodologies and adopt programs that better move sequentially toward deeper understanding?

Are we trying to teach too much?

How do we shift our mentalities from, “It all has to get done” to, “It all will get done, but on my students’ terms”?

As a special educator, I know I can’t get to everything that is supposed to be gotten to. If our recently completed multiplication unit consisted of one day of repeated addition, one day of “groups of,” and one day of arrays, I think perhaps one student in my class would have grasped what multiplication means. I do have the luxury, though, of working through the content at my students’ paces – and therefore we have several lessons in which we examine each topic in a different way (ie. arrays with counters, stickers, pictures, cookies, word problems, etc.)

The balance of teaching what needs to be taught and ensuring our students get it is quite delicate. How do you walk the tightrope?

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One response to “Teaching on a Tightrope

  1. One effective effort our school is employing currently is RTI for ELA. We meet regularly to discuss student assessments and our instructional delivery–we restructure groups and efforts for students who are not making progress in the area of reading comprehension and fluency. Students are responding well to the targeted approaches. I am learning a lot as an educator from the meetings. Recently I restructured the reading approach for a few students whose assessments did not show progress, then they made progress. It was a minor tweak, but an effective one. We have more to learn, but it seems like we’re making steps in the right direction.

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