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Curriculum for Schools in Crisis

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Accessible Curriculum for Schools in Crisis

We often hear from our teachers that they don’t have time to implement new software into their classrooms. In our schools with the highest-need student populations, the difficulties range from not enough time in the schedule, to not enough stability for students throughout the day. There are school systems who can’t count on their teachers to arrive at school every day, where lockdowns occur regularly, and hundreds of unexpected surprises interrupt (and often extend) the teacher’s regular plans. I’d like to suggest that it is for these exact reasons that an easy-to-use program is one solution to this myriad of challenges many teachers face every day.

I started my teaching career in a residential school for incarcerated boys. There, classes were frequently interrupted to physically restrain threatening students. We often had to cancel classes due to unsafe classroom conditions, and always the teacher had to be “at the ready” to respond to an interruption. Later, I taught in a challenging neighborhood, where we regularly had difficulty finding substitute teachers willing to take assignments. I would often find myself with a classroom full of 50 students, half from another class with no teacher for the day. At the least, my lesson plans were “interrupted”.

In these situations, it was vital that I had as many back-up solutions as I could. Standard materials for these emergencies included flashcards, reading “silently”, educational games I had prepared for other parts of my school day and anything else I could find unused in my drawers. However, these materials are difficult to hold students accountable for, allowing the students to spend much of this time off-task. At a time when teachers are already stressed due to unexpected circumstances, accountability and management become more important than ever. What I really needed was a strong, well planned resource (or lots of them!) that would engage my students no matter when they used it. However, in the ever changing and challenging world as a teacher, finding the time to come up with my standard plan was often difficult enough. Various studies done around the world show that teachers spend anywhere from 7 hours to over 14 hours outside of the regular workday on planning for their standard lessons, making regular planning time-consuming enough. Finding the time to create back-up plans or hunt down good educational resources was nearly unheard of. In a post for NEA Today, Sara Ketcham writes, “The schedule that allowed me to keep my sanity was to stop work (notice I didn’t say “finish”) by 5-6pm each school night, and only work 3 hours on the weekend (Of course I almost always worked more than this…)” And my personal experience and that of my colleagues supported this view – that the work of a teacher is never-ending. We needed to find as many valuable resources as possible, to become efficient in our planning of standard time, while still having a reserve of materials for that emergency time.

Finding the time to prepare strong lessons is demanding and time-consuming enough. Especially in the schools with our most challenging students and circumstances, it is easy for teachers to get bogged down with the general needs of making it through their work day. When crises arise, it is vital that a teacher be prepared to manage this time as effectively as possible, and having an academic benefit will only have a further positive impact. I encourage all teachers to work with their school leaders to find resources including the those offered by Apex Striving in the form of curriculum, that they can use to strengthen what they offer during the standard day, as well as what is available during an emergency.

OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, TALIS, OECD Publishing.
UK Dept of Ed – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/285941/DFE-RR316.pdf
NEA Today http://neatoday.org/2015/08/28/stay-positive-and-pace-yourself-a-survival-guide-for-first-year-teachers/

by Jessica Lee

Jessica is a former Teach for America corps member, has over 7 years of direct teaching experience, 10+ years of leadership experience, and has most recently performed as a Director of Operations for one of the largest global language learning software companies.

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