This year, we have implemented the new teacher Ohio teacher evaluation system at my high school, which means that instead of doing a professional development project along with brief, informal observations, formal observations have returned to my life. Honestly, I'm enjoying the opportunity to discuss what is happening in my classroom with someone not directly involved in the lesson. I use the word "lesson" here because I can't really think of another word to replace it. However, I have come to the conclusion that it needs replaced.
Normally, when someone begins to list what a teacher does, "making daily lesson plans" is somewhere close to the top of the list. What these plans are to include is pretty standard: there should be a specific, stated objective, a plan for how the objective will be met during the 50-minute class period, and a means for determining whether or not the objective has been met. None of this applies to my classroom. To be sure, we accomplish quite a bit in my classroom every day. But beyond the fact that even a cursory examination of the idea that a specified objective will be met every day during a designated 50-minute window would reveal its silliness (seriously, apply this idea to a business or congressional subcommittee meeting and you'll begin to see the absurdity of it), it is simply not possible for me to know beforehand how far the students will get in a discussion, which exercise will require more time and which will require less, what additional information some student will have found that takes us deep into a particular concept, and so on. Most days, individual groups within the same class don't need to take the same amount of time on individual exercises, let alone this happening from class to class. The vast majority of the planning for the course happens in a place called July, and although I know we'll get through all of the material we need to cover in a given semester, trying to time it out day-by-day, or even week-by-week, is close to impossible. This is why, when putting together a rough calendar for the course, we plan for everything, including exams, to be completed in 75 school days, even though there are 90 school days in the semester. That way, if the discussion on a particular exercise takes a little longer, or if a particular concept needs a little extra time as we begin the review days, or whatever (including things like snow days), we have the time available to let it happen without forcing us to move through some other topic more quickly than we should.
Fortunately, I have administrators (both in my building and in the district offices) who understand the amount of planning that happens before the course begins, that part of the flow of the course depends on allowing the students to go at the pace they need to take, and that while there is a big picture plan, it simply doesn't make sense for me to attempt to predict the details of what will happen on any given day in my classroom. They understand that part of the point of a discussion-based classroom is providing the students with the freedom to make sense of the material for themselves rather than having a specified method forced upon them. And they understand that a formal means of determining whether or not an objective has been met has been replaced by constant, informal assessment and feedback throughout the bell. In other words, they understand that, in the same way students cannot be treated or assessed in the same way, neither can teachers.
Among the other things for which I'm thankful, this is most certainly on the list.