Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Teachers Teach Students – Programs are Simply Tools #SOL18
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Slice of Life: Teachers Teach Students – Programs are Simply Tools #SOL18

It was early morning and I was anticipating the big day ahead of us.  We were on our way to Mount Pico in the Azores.  While it is not a long hike it is a steep climb.  They only allow 40 people at a time on the mountain and our guide wanted to set out first thing in the morning.  I was enjoying the scenery as my husband drove and my son Jack navigated in the passenger seat.  I was almost dozing off when I noticed we turned the opposite direction than I had expected.

Didn’t the directions the guide sent say to go left at that intersection?

Yes, but I Google Mapped it last night.  This way is quicker.

I decide to let it go and focus on the sunrise instead.  My connection with the beautiful vista before me is interrupted by the jolting of the car.  I turn to look out the front window.  I notice we are now on a dirt road ascending up the mountain.

Do you think this is right? I ask.

Yup.  The GPS says this is the way. Jack responds.

I wait a minute.  Trying to resist the anxiety that is taking over my mind and body.  The road is narrowing, the curves are blind and there are no signs anywhere.

Are you sure? I continue.

Yes.  We looked at it last night and the GPS is saying this is correct.

My son Ryan and I exchange glances in the back seat. We are not looking at a GPS but based on what is out the window we are pretty sure this is not right.

I really don’t think this is right.  Another car could not fit past us.  This is the highest peak in Portugal.  160 people hike it daily.  Don’t you think we would see another car? There is no one on this road.

 Maybe they all went the other way.

 A road leading to this mountain would have to be two-way.  This is too narrow. You can’t even see what is coming.

The road continues to narrow and it is getting steeper and steeper. There are potholes and no guard rails.  Now I am screaming.

This is not right!

But the GPS…

Forget the GPS.  Stop looking down.  Look up.  Look ahead of you.

The road completely dead ends into a ravine.  My husband hits the brakes.  Silence fills the car.

I guess this is not the way. My husband finally admits.

I have thought about this experience many times since that early morning in August.  I think this same thing is happening far too often in our classrooms.  Teachers are handed programs and manuals.  They may even be told to teach it to fidelity.  We see teachers in front of children trying to follow a script from their lap.  When we are looking down or following the guidance of something that is not in the moment with us, it is easy to completely miss what is actually happening.  Every rational sign in front of us that morning indicated we were not a road to Mount Pico.  In retrospect it was obvious we were on the wrong road.  At the time, the navigators were trusting a source that was not with us experiencing what we were experiencing.

Tammy and I think programs, anchor lessons, and sample units are truly helpful tools.  We worry, however, when some educators believe these tools teach children.  Marketers assert that if teachers simply follow the program the children will fall in line and magically all need the same instructional focus, taught in the same way, on the same day.  We all know that is not possible.  Teachers teach children – the tools just help us do our job.  It is what we do with these tools in response to the students sitting in front of that makes a difference.  We need to remember to look up, trust what we see, and change course when what is suggested is not working for our students.

Good news is we made it, had a beautiful hike, and can even now laugh about how our day started!


  • Avatar
    Kevin Hodgson
    Posted at 09:54h, 23 October Reply

    “Teachers are handed programs and manuals. They may even be told to teach it to fidelity. We see teachers in front of children trying to follow a script from their lap.”


    I’ve facilitated programs with teachers in schools like these (usually the ones where the state has stepped in) and I find it depressing, the script and the monitoring, and — as in the GPS story — the inability to see the classroom for the curriculum.


  • Avatar
    Fran Haley
    Posted at 10:04h, 23 October Reply

    Clare, what vitally important points you make in this analogy. There can never be an effective one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, as learners (and their teachers) are all so different. That’s part of the glorious experience of life. When I think of mandating sameness, I think of every dystopian novel I ever read, of totalitarian societies throughout history. Mandating compliance implies a lack of trust. As Daniel Pink said: “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” So much more can be said -!! I will leave it at this: Thank you for your rousing words and thoughts, for the inspiration drawn from over-dependence on a tool that can only do so much, and for the taste of that breathtaking locale — the big picture not to be missed, just being there to savor the experience.

  • Avatar
    Chris Margocs
    Posted at 10:13h, 23 October Reply

    What a wonderful connection between your trip and teaching! We do teach children, not protocols and programs. I have never been more aware of how much curricular programming is “thrown” at teachers as I have as a librarian, having to catalog and distribute it all. Sharing your post with my teacher friends today!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 10:28h, 23 October Reply

    Love it! “We need to remember to look up, trust what we see, and change course when what is suggested is not working for our students.”

  • Avatar
    Posted at 11:05h, 23 October Reply

    Your story helped to make a powerful point.

  • Avatar
    Rose Cappelli
    Posted at 12:20h, 23 October Reply

    You always make such great connections to teaching! Glad you made it to the hike. I keep wondering – how did you get back down the mountain?

  • Avatar
    Posted at 22:11h, 23 October Reply

    I adore how you took the potential mishap of driving into a ravine and connected it to scripted programs and other tools. What a powerful connection you made to teaching.

    BTW: Something crazy happened to us like this when we were driving a few weeks ago. I’ll show you the photo at NCTE. It’s worth seeing where we landed up (when my husband FINALLY listened to me and backtracked despite what the GPS was telling him to do).

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