I am not a believer of hell, but if I were asked to describe my ultimate purgatory it would be to sit down with a bunch of other history teachers and write common lesson plans every week. I was recently asked to do this at a job interview for an “innovative” school. Three of us were asked to plan out a week’s worth of lessons in 20 minutes. In twenty minutes we achieved the most apathetic, incoherent, compromised bunch of garbage I’ve ever seen.
We took each of our, no doubt coherent, educational philosophies and hurriedly amputated arms and legs, throwing bits into the pot, having neither the time nor will to object to what was being created. The result was a Frankenstein of attitudes about learning and students that no one would be able to live with. The Kids Learn Best From Each Other teacher cannot also be the Kids Don’t Learn Anything From Each Other teacher. The Creative Project teacher cannot also be the Multiple Choice teacher. The Textbook teacher cannot also be the Down With the Textbook teacher. Would I be exaggerating to say that it’s akin to asking a Christian, Muslim, and Jew to sit down, pull out the best parts of their faith, and then require each of them to teach the selected bits of the other faiths as passionately as they would teach their own?
“Collaboration,” in the sense of common lesson planning, is a crime against teaching as a craft. Perhaps I am alone in believing there exist master teachers who craft lessons, skillfully use the tools in their box, choosing the proper tool for the given circumstance, and uniquely and expertly mold their students. More and more, schools are opting for uniformity, a lowest common denominator which, no doubt, improves the worst. This is for teacher accountability and to give kids a more equal educational experience so that some students are not stuck with the “bad” teacher. But the real result is tragic. No one gets the incredible teacher—there are no incredible teachers. Teachers cannot tailor their lesson plans to their specific classrooms and so students become a homogeneous globule. The efficient teacher, the teacher who is willing to invest extra time into a particularly incredible lesson, the teacher who has a vision of a coherent unit where every concept, skill, and assessment pairs logically with the material being taught—this teacher will necessarily have to compromise and the talents that make this a particularly special teacher are nullified in the name of the God of Collaboration.