My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

“Lesson Plans” was inspired in part by a series of conversations among my colleagues in various disciplines. Months before Covid-19, remote learning, and our country’s long overdue reckoning with systemic racism, we shared our difficulties about having enough time to plan and teach our core classes effectively, let alone fulfill an ever-increasing list of duties unrelated to those classes. One said s/he understood why so many new teachers quit within five years. Another, that s/he’d have been better off in the private sector. A third, that s/he would never recommend teaching to a child considering the field. We were exhausted, we agreed, and nearly burnt-out. Demoralized by a barrage of feedback suggesting teachers get paid too much for not enough work, even though they regularly  work 60+ hours each week. Even though they use their own salaries to buy necessary supplies districts can’t–or won’t–provide. Even though many work two jobs to support their families. 

No one gets into teaching for the money. At least no one I’ve ever known. So why teach? 

“Lesson Plans” strives to answer that question.   Written in response to StoryADay May’s list prompt, it is loosely modelled on a lesson plan format wherein teachers must state learning objectives, materials, procedures, and assessments. However, in this piece, the roles of student and teacher are not mutually exclusive: they are interactive and mutually transformative.

Because that’s what true learning is. 

Think about how you learned to do whatever it is that you’re now really good at. Ride a bike. Tie your shoes. Drive. Cook a meal. Perform your job. Someone showed you some of the steps. You practiced. You screwed up. You practiced again. Maybe you asked questions. Maybe you watched other experts.  You screwed up again, and then maybe you figured out a different way, a hodgepodge of advice and experience and trial and error. However you forged your path forward, you are no longer the person at the end of the process as you were at the beginning. Likewise, you’ve continued to improve, yes? Barring any unforeseen obstacles? Maybe even shared those life lessons with others?

Same here. 

In my thirty-plus years as an educator, I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with so many wonderful young adults…and some who were less than wonderful. Nevertheless, each and every one of them has taught me invaluable lessons about not only the kind of teacher I want to be, but the kind of human being. Just like my former teachers did for me. For all of their input, I am tremendously grateful.

The unnamed persona in “Lesson Plans” is any one of us who wants to effect real, sustainable change for our children and the world we share. S/he has lofty objectives. However, all of them are rooted in the critical ability to identify and evaluate choices, then synthesize them into actions. We see that process when s/he confesses both her failure and its causes to student witnesses who neither abandon nor mock the persona. Rather, having mastered the lesson’s objectives, students use them to lead the teacher  from that moment of despair.

That’s why teachers teach. They want to model the change we need to to see in the world.

I think about that when I think about our current conversations regarding race and racism in the US. I am by no means an expert on those issues, but I am qualified to speak about the critical role education must play in highlighting and dismantling the attitudes, behaviors, and systems that have created that toxic culture. Nor do I  mean only in our schools. I mean in our homes and neighborhoods,  among friends and colleagues. And perhaps most importantly, among those whose experiences have differed from our own. Among those with whom we disagree.

Education is not the only way to fix what’s so clearly wrong in our country, but may I humbly suggest it’s a good place to start?

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