Sneak Teaching

Last summer and fall, I was co-facilitator of a Western Massachusetts Writing Project institute sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  The institute, entitled Reading and Teaching American Literary Nonfiction, drew talented teachers from several high-needs districts in Massachusetts and generated many thoughtful discussions of the challenges of teaching reading and writing.

One of the challenges faced by several teachers in the group is their districts’ requirement that they follow scripted daily lesson plans.  Not curriculum maps or course objectives, but down-to-the-minute sequences of class activities, leaving little room for teacher creativity or student interests. These teachers were frustrated by these requirements, and some admitted to engaing in “sneak teaching,” including unsanctioned content when no one was looking. 

This phenomenon is a sad commentary on the state of education reform.  What probably began as a good-faith effort to support inexperienced teachers in stressed urban districts has turned into a straitjacket that makes smart, committed teachers feel disrespected and disempowered.  It’s no wonder that there is such a high teacher turnover.

The backlash against the test-only mentality of the current No Child Left Behind law gives me hope that the next round of legislation will shift the emphasis back to good teaching – teaching that relies teachers’ creativity and judgment and understanding of their students as well as on standards – and makes “sneak teaching” unnecessary.