Teaching 101: Lesson Planning in TX

Here’s a truism that educators repeat endlessly (and, apparently, fruitlessly): Just because you went to school, doesn’t mean that you understand how schools work.

It applies to all the logistical and philosophical details about schooling, from busing to teacher prep to grading. Just because you had three recesses per day in elementary school doesn’t mean that kids in 2023 have that essential play built into their days. Just because you took Algebra I in ninth grade doesn’t mean that your seventh grader won’t have single-variable equations in their homework packet. Just because teaching seemed easy (or dreadful) to you, as a child or teenager, doesn’t mean that anybody can do it.

And so on. You don’t know what’s going on in schools—or why—unless you’re there all the time and have deep knowledge of education policy and practice.

In a wonderful piece in his eponymously named blog, Tom Ultican writes about a deal going down in Texas:

 Under this new legislation, the state of Texas is contracting with Amplify to write the curriculum according to TEA guidelines. Amplify will also provide daily lesson plans for all teachers. The idea is to educate all Texas children using digital devices and scripted lesson plans while teachers are tasked with monitoring student progress.

This, of course, is not new at all. Education publishers and nonprofits have been hawking standards / curricula / benchmarks / instructional materials / “innovative” reforms—all of them ‘aligned’—for decades, ramping up this effort post-NCLB, and culminating in the Great National Project to Standardize Everything, the Common Core.

Tom does a superb job of deconstructing the fallacy of one-size-fits-all lesson plans, as well as giving his readers a heads-up about Who Not to Trust in Ed World and what they really want.

I was struck by this quote from the so-called Coalition for Education Excellence (“Reducing teacher workloads with State support”):

“Many teachers in Texas are currently working two jobs—designing lessons and teaching them—which is contributing to their exhaustion and teacher shortages. Access to high-quality instructional material can reduce teacher workloads and play a critical role in delivering quality education.”

I have no doubt that many Texas teacher are actually working two jobs, given that the minimum salary for 5th-year TX teachers (who have certainly created lots of lesson plans at the point) is less than $40K. I imagine asking that 5th year teacher if he would rather have more money or free (mandated) lesson plans, courtesy of Texas, which has already spent more than $50 million on the pre-designed, screen-ready lessons from Amplify.

Here’s where the lack of insider knowledge—”just because you went to school…”—comes in, at the intersection of curriculum and instruction. I guess that free (mandated) lesson plans might sound like a good idea to someone whose conception of instruction was formed by the conveyor belt of students with flip-top heads featured in “Waiting for Superman,” another artifact of the roiling education reform dialogue.

No amount of marketing pomposity can change the fact that teachers, in order to be effective, need some control over their professional work. Effective teaching goes like this:

  • Get to know the students you’re responsible for—their strengths, their shortcomings, their quirks. Let them know you care about them, and intend to teach them something worthwhile.
  • Using that knowledge, design and teach lessons to move them forward. Persist, when your first attempts fail or produce mediocre results. Check on their learning frequently, but let them know that you’re checking in order to choose the right thing to do next—not to punish, or label them. Re-design lessons using another learning mode, accelerate, cycle back to review, pull out stragglers for another crack at core content, challenge those who have mastered the content and skill with enrichment activities—and do all of this simultaneously, every hour of the school day.

In other words, designing lessons and teaching them cannot be separated, if you’re hoping to create a coherent curriculum or motivated learners. They’re entirely dependent on the students in front of you. Removing one of the two from the equation makes it harder, and more time-consuming, if the goal is crafting a learning classroom.

One of the phony reasons for adopting the Amplify curriculum TX state legislators have been fed is that students were being taught “below grade-level content.” 

It would be easy for those without experience as educators to assume that kids in Texas were being short-changed, left behind, by feckless teachers lazily spoon-feeding them easy subject matter.

There might be actual reasons for this: some curricula is best understood and applied when taught sequentially. A sharp teacher, getting to know her students, can identify gaps and address those before moving to the next stage—a far better and more efficacious plan than starting with whatever the state has designated as “grade-level.”

The grade-level curricula may be inappropriate for some kids (special education students spring to mind here). It may have been set by people who haven’t been in a classroom in decades, or don’t understand what the pandemic—or poverty—have done to students in any given state or town.

Lesson planning and its partner, effective instruction, are things that teachers get better at, year after year. They are a central part of what it means to be a good teacher. Taking lesson planning away from an entire statewide public school system is not an act designed to make teachers’ lives easier.

It’s about control over what gets taught.


  1. Don’t these people have enough to do with the things they are supposed to be doing? This harebrained idea reminds me of the ubiquitous phrase I was introduced to in my last few years of teaching–”teach with fidelity.” That meant follow some “one-size-fits-all” script to the letter. That’s bad enough in a regular classroom, but in a special ed room where we were suppose to follow IEPs designed to meet INDIVIDUAL NEEDS those scripts were a joke. There are too many talking heads determined to wring any joy out of learning with their attempts to create the new factory type education they use to claim was favored in public education.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. I hope you get a chance to read “The Teachers” (Alexandra Robbins). One of her three featured teachers is a special ed teacher in a middle school. He speaks often, in the book, about his REAL goals for his students (things like speaking respectfully, impulse control, out-in-the-world skills like buying things or attending a movie) vs. the goals set by state standards (identifying poetry meter, naming principal exports of a country).

      Of course, you think when you read his story. He knows best what students will need, in the real world. But then, of course, he considers what will happen when his kids go to the HS, and get plunked into one-size-fits-all courses.



      1. I will have to read it. Thank you. That middle school teacher and I would have gotten along famously. My last three years of special ed teaching was in language arts in a low income, minority high school. We “played’ a lot of word games and talked about lots of things that popped up through our reading. No right or wrong answers; these were discussions to draw out their ideas and opinions. There was no faster way to a totally silent class than to look for “right” answers. My goal was to prove to these kids that they could think and use language well beyond what any test would have indicated. I taught a canned reading program for most of the time (it was pretty good as such things go), but I modified it to meet the needs of individual students. Teaching it “with fidelity” would not have been teaching them “with fidelity.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. (Nancy and I taught in the same public school district for many years and we are friends.)

    During my 39-year teaching career—mostly eighth grade English—I came to understand there were two types of students—aka human beings:

    1. Students who were mostly securely attached to their parents or caregivers, and who often enough had their needs met

    2. Student who were mostly not securely attached to their parents or caregivers, and who often enough did not have their needs met

    Given that, I planned my lessons in an attempt to seamlessly engage both types of students so that they felt safe enough to learn.

    This meant they had to trust me, and so I did my best to earn their trust.

    My point here? Some of my students—and it varied by class—mostly needed a teacher who made them feel safe enough…so that they could breathe easy for 55 minutes.

    Yes, they would learn, but for them, feeling safe was far more important than learning.


    Because it gave them hope.

    Therefore, if the script given today’s teachers does not include time for the teacher to earn the trust of all of their students, and if the script does not include time for the teacher to see and positively connect with their mostly insecurely attached students who often enough were not having their needs met, that script was exclusionary.

    How Nancy taught was unique. She brought and shared her entire self to her classroom. And she got results! (You don’t get selected Michigan Teacher of the Year unless you get results.) Nobody could ever write a script that would have brought Nancy’s enormous and unique skill set into her classroom. Fortunately she was given the space to do that during her teaching career. But that was then. Would the same be true today?

    I’ll conclude by asking those who favor scripts for teachers a question:

    When a teacher did what it takes to make all of their students feel safe—which takes time—did the students who were mostly securely attached and who often enough had their needs met lose a thing?

    I say no.

    I say no because those students were learning one of life’s greatest lessons: the power of all of us feeling mostly safe and all of us having enough of our needs met. Don’t believe me? Go ask Nancy’s students. They’ll tell you. Gladly.



    1. Thanks, Kirk–and back atcha. Two of your former students (my own kids) would testify to feeling safe–and learning something–in your class.

      I agree that so much of what is/can be learned depends on trusting relationships. I also know that those trusting relationships are under fire, even in the nice, “safe” district where we used to teach. Every time I read about a school board ripping books out of libraries or shutting down the PFLAG club at the HS, I think that destroying trust in the public schools is the end goal. They can tweak the budget or enforce a stupid dress code or make any number of cuts to valuable programs–but what they’re really after is damaging the trusting relationships between teachers and students.



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