Teaching with the End in Mind

Open the textbook, look at chapter one, and work through the content and student problems section so there are no doubts in your mind. Review what the state standards have to say about the topic, and be sure the chapter “covers” all critical key ideas. If not, plan on supplementing. Regardless, figure out ways to make the material engaging through humor, passion, and possible relevance. At chapters end, devise your own assessment or use one from the teacher’s resources. Move on to chapter two. And so it goes for the unorthodox teacher.cropped-p1000221.jpg

Having made an abrupt career shift from oceanographer to high school science teacher (Physics and Chemistry, initially), I didn’t have the background knowledge of lesson planning. There were no models or graphic tools to organize the standards, content knowledge, information from the textbook, or other relevant information. I was rudderless and unprepared. But for private schools such as St. Mary’s Academy in Glens Falls, NY, state certification rules allowed one to teach without state certification or an educator preparation program degree. I was hired not for my pedagogical prowess, but for my science background and practical experience working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office.

My students somehow survived my early fumbled attempts at teaching. Lessons were flawed, and I usually flew by the “seat of my pants” staying one chapter ahead of the students. Assessments were inauthentic, low rigor, and used solely to get grades in my grade book that would satisfy students and parents. Remarkably, I found my students were learning, though mostly for their parents’ expectations. SMA was and remains a prestigious school in the city, and many parents continued the tradition though the high school class numbers were rapidly declining.  No, the only problems were my lack of experience.

Reflecting back, the saving grace for me was a passion for teaching and a mindset that Stephen Covey would aptly call, “Begin with the end in Mind”, and which Wiggins and McTighe described as Identify Desired Results.  I did have a goal for my instruction, and the state syllabi for physics and chemistry were my bibles. I highlighted each concept covered throughout the year in the syllabi, to ensure there were no gaps at year’s end, and I persisted when the lesson was a dud or if one or more students still didn’t understand. Failure was not an option. I’d found my passion, and I loved it–in spite of the bumps. My overriding goal was that every student would pass my class and the Regents exam, and we’d have fun along the way.  Eventually I would discover the practitioner tools to lesson plan and build units of instruction. Meanwhile, for my two years at SMA, I often thought at the end of a long day, “How lucky was I to be a teacher!!” And believe it or not, Mondays couldn’t come soon enough.

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