In this podcast episode, Amanda and Trina discuss the use of canned curriculum in schools and its impact on teachers and the education system. They recognize canned curriculum is useful in certain contexts, such as for long term substitutes or new teachers. However, in this episode they highlight the drawbacks of canned curriculum, such as job dissatisfaction because of the lack of autonomy for educators. Canned curriculum also increases disengagement among students. They discuss the influence of school boards and politics in education decision-making. Amanda and Trina emphasize the need for change and the importance of teachers’ voices and expertise in shaping our American education system. Overall, they advocate for a more personalized and relevant approach to teaching.
About the Real Teachers Discussing The Teacher Shortage Crisis
Trina is a Bay Area public teacher, who has worked in multiple school districts and public schools. She has extensive experience in leading social justice-based reforms in education. She has implemented innovative programs, received recognition for her efforts, and is deeply involved in advocacy work related to gender equity. She earned her undergraduate degree in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and her masters in Educational Leadership from Cal State East Bay. She is a staunch advocate for Title IX implementation and completed a multi-district confidential study on the lack of implementation of Title IX in Bay Area schools. She is a vocal critic of the exclusionary equity work in K-12 education and has devised and led multiple equity-based pilot projects in her present and prior districts. She has prior experience running a domestic violence shelter and rape crisis hotline, and training domestic violence advocates on trauma response, crisis intervention, and harm reduction safety planning strategies. She has advised numerous feminist student unions over the years, and collaborated with Women’s March Oakland to organize her feminist student union’s involvement in the march—the first ever public school to do so. Read more about her in the blog entry entitled, “Out of the Darkness”.
Amanda has been a passionate full-time classroom teacher for 14 years. But, she’s also left the profession twice due to burnout and unforeseen family circumstances. She’s worked in a wide range of educational settings teaching students grades 3rd-8th. For the 2023-2024 school year she will be teaching 9th grade! No matter what type of school or grade she’s taught, engaging and empowering students has always been at the forefront of her work as an educator and teacher-author. Amanda understands that helping students find their voice is core to being an effective teacher and social justice advocate. Amanda shares insights about implementing equitable teaching practices on this website and podcast. She has her bachelor’s degree in English literature and Middle-Level Humanities.
Teachers are NOT the Problem, They are Part of the Solution
We are losing qualified teachers at a staggering rate. But, to be clear, teachers should never be blamed for the teacher turnover problems our country is facing. The shortage of teachers in America and the decrease in college students seeking a teaching career is a multifaceted and complex problem.
In this podcast series, we discuss exactly what got us to this crisis point in the U.S. education system. Click the links below to be directed to that part of the series. We recommend listening in order.
In this series, Trina, along with myself, and many other educators from diverse backgrounds will explain the many layers of what is really going on. The shortage of special education teachers and math teachers is impacting schools (especially in low-income urban areas) tremendously. But, it’s important for teachers to understand the extent of this crisis. We are losing teachers in all subject areas.
We want to give teachers an extensive look at this problem from teachers’ perspectives. This is so teachers listening can share this series with other teachers, school leadership, the media, and even the governor of their state. The need to examine the causes of the national teacher shortage has never been more important.
Amanda (00:00:00) – We are back with part five of this episode series Investigating in Depth The Teacher Shortage Crisis. Trina English is a Bay Area teacher who’s worked in multiple school districts and public schools. She has extensive experience in leading social justice based reforms and education. She’s implemented innovative programs, received recognition for her efforts, and is deeply involved in advocacy work related to gender equity. She’s here today and she’s been here the last four episodes, helping us understand the many, many nuanced nuances associated with what’s going on in our country. And guess what? I’ve been talking to a lot of people who aren’t in the teaching profession who don’t even realize what is going on. Teacher shortage crisis, Huh? This series, it’s not just for teachers. It’s not just for administrators, board members. I mean, yes, it is for all of you, but it’s also for people who are outside of education who don’t truly understand what is going on and what the experience of a teacher is within our system. So this episode is about and curriculum.
Amanda (00:01:24) – And in the episode, Trina and I just go straight in. We just dive right in and we sort of, we don’t really define can curriculum until about 20 minutes into the episode. So I’d like to just define it up front right now. Can curriculum is curriculum that was bought from an outside company. There are many, many companies that sell curriculum to schools. Some of them include Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill. So these are different companies that create curriculum, and Trina refers to it as pedagogically dense material. And it’s true. It is very, very dense. They throw everything into into the curriculum. Sometimes it’s just too much. It’s overwhelming. And it’s also so it’s like giant books basically, like spiraled teacher handbooks. But then it can also come with student workbooks and it can come with online tools. And this curriculum is often the companies talk about how it’s been tested and it’s been piloted and in in classrooms and with students and that it’s been proven to work. And often I think most of the time teachers and administrators don’t really question this or look into the validity of these claims.
Amanda (00:03:04) – And I think a lot of English teachers in particular who are paying attention to what’s going on in the reading wars have really started to open their eyes to all of this, especially because of a podcast series called Sold a story how teaching kids to read went so wrong. If you listen to that series, there’s a lot in it about curriculum being sold to districts and districts and administrators being told that this curriculum is scientifically backed. And and really it wasn’t. And so a lot of I think administrators and teachers feel very upset about believing that certain curriculum work worked and and just and spending lots and lots and lots of money tax dollars on these materials. And so this is a really, really important episode to listen to fully. And I also want to bring up a review that someone recently wrote about this podcast. This teacher listened to episode one, which is about the teacher pay problems with teacher pay, and I highly recommend you listen to all of these episodes. So episode one or Part one is about the oppressive and outdated teacher pay scale and how to fix it.
Amanda (00:04:48) – Episode two Part two is about a conversation with a new teacher who left the profession. Part three is the high cost of becoming a teacher and all that. We. Have to go through to become a teacher. Part four is about red tape, exacerbating the problems and teacher induction programs and how exhausting they are. But this teacher who wrote a review, I really appreciate hearing their perspective because the teachers from Texas and talks about how in the teacher pay episode we didn’t even speak to the experiences of teachers in other states and their pay scales. We are teaching in California, and so we have a limited we have limited knowledge about what goes on in other states. And honestly, this is part of the problem, right? It just varies so vastly from state to state. What school districts are doing in terms of pay, in terms of curriculum, in terms of the way that teachers are treated. It’s it’s and the and the instruction that students are getting. But this teacher talks about how there is not multiple columns in their pay structure.
Amanda (00:06:09) – There’s only one column in California. There’s multiple columns. And you can get pay raises by continuing to take education classes and accumulate credit. In this teacher’s particular district, apparently there’s only one column. The starting pay in 2023 is $58,000, and you can only make up to 72,000 after 30 years of being a teacher. And and that Texas is a high cost of living state. Maybe not compared to California and New York, but it does cost a lot to live in Texas. And so I just really appreciate teachers sharing their experiences. And I would like to invite you to join the conversation if you want to come on the podcast, this podcast, be a guest and talk with Trina and I about your experiences related to these issues. You can go to amandawritenow.com and in the navigation menu at the top click contact contact me. I’ll get an email. Tell me what you would like to talk about on the podcast. What experiences have you had with these issues? We want to hear from you.
Amanda (00:07:27) – We really would love to talk to more teachers from other states about their experiences and even in California. And it really we want to hear from all teachers. It doesn’t matter what grades you teach, it doesn’t matter what state you’re in, it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been teaching. Maybe you’re in a public school, a private school, a charter school. We want to hear from you. We want to make sure this is a comprehensive look at what’s going on with the teacher shortage. And so if you want to be a part of this, let me know, contact me. We even have technology where we can disguise your voice if you want. So no one would even know that it was you coming on and telling your story. Contact me if you would like to be a part of this. So let’s get started talking about canned curriculum and its impact on the teacher shortage crisis.
Amanda (00:03:07) -Trina. How in the world does canned curriculum fit into all of this? Because we’ve already talked about some themes of oppression when it comes to teacher pay. And if you haven’t listened to that yet, you should definitely go back to that episode.
Amanda (00:04:20) – It is mind blowing. And then we also talked about the high cost of becoming a teacher and preparation preparatory programs that we go through to preparing us and just all of the hoops that we have to jump through and all the money we have to spend to become a teacher. And now we have our own classrooms and we’re handed a canned curriculum. So how does this relate to the teacher shortage problem? Trina And go ahead and get us started on on this topic.
Trina (00:04:53) – This is a complicated topic, right, Amanda? Like we were talking before the show, sort of sorting out our thinking. And you and I, especially you, are particularly like self possessed around creating our own curriculum and having a lot of creative creative agency over what we’re doing. That is like a very important facet of how we feel connected to our kids and to our profession. Yeah, yeah. Yes. Yeah, totally. But you and I both acknowledged that can curriculum is useful and it has its place. So we’ll actually take a second to define what we mean by can curriculum, because I want to make sure that what we’re saying is accessible to people who aren’t in our profession.
Trina (00:05:34) – Don’t we speak with our own vocabulary and our own manner of speaking so that we’re not understandable to people outside of our profession? We need to speak plainly and simply, and we need to unpack some of the vocabulary that we use in our profession, and I will do that. But if you are listening to this series in sequence and order, which Amanda suggested that you do, and we want you to because we’ve been very intentional about the way we’ve been doling out this information. Like one episode kind of bleeds into the next. If you’re listening in sequence, you just finished hearing about our preparation programs, our preparatory programs, and, you know, the eight years of higher education that we need to complete to have a full clear credential not making our full salary, we still have to go to more school for that. Just to have a clear credential is eight years, right? So you get to this point and then you’re not allowed to use any of this extremely specific, highly esoteric, deeply meaningful information that you’ve been required to curate within yourself.
Trina (00:06:42) – You’re given this canned curriculum. And one of the things we know about job satisfaction within and outside of education is that lack of autonomy leads to job dissatisfaction and worker burnout. Like that’s just a fact of the world. Like people know that when you give freedom away, take freedom away, sorry, from your workers, you’re going to lead to greater burnout. And so this is leading to people leaving our profession, too.
Amanda (00:07:11) – So how did we get to this place where our schools are so reliant on canned curriculum rather than their teachers that are experts in teaching and curriculum and student engagement?
Trina (00:07:27) – Yeah, we got to talk about that. And curriculum is really an even broader topic than what it sounds. It has to do with the outsourcing of expert knowledge in all facets and areas of K-12 education. What we were talking about here is about the practice of hiring outside consultants and outsourcing the needs for experts inside of K-12 education. We have applied the term neoliberalism to define this phenomenon, but it needs to be unpacked some.
Trina (00:07:56) – And by the way, the stuff we’re about to talk about today, unlike the first couple episodes, is very well researched. The harmful effects of this term. Neoliberalism have been really well researched and really well documented in K-12 scholarship. But the term itself is not a great one, and I’m not the first person to notice this because it’s not at all descriptive of the concept. When we think of liberal, we think progressive, right? Some of us have positive connotations that term and think of words like compassionate and enlightened. These are the terms that spring to mind. Others have negative connotations associated with the term liberal like bleeding heart. But the definition of the phrase really has nothing to do with any of those ideas. It instead has to do with tossing all of the big decisions about what we teach and how we teach it and how we handle really all the big and little stuff in K-12, in the free marketplace. And I first learned about it when taking my master’s coursework at Cal State East Bay. And I want to thank the professors and leaders in the Masters of Educational Leadership Team for their curriculum, instruction and scholarship.
Trina (00:09:08) – In this, the reading lists your knowledge. Thank you and really helped me put together a lot of my experiences and anecdotal knowledge into a framework which is essential. But digging into this idea of teachers in the profession, not having any agency over our own profession gets back into the structural sexism issue again because we really are the only professional and credentialed occupation that does not get to call our own shots. The underlying theme of structural sexism being connected to the widespread extent to which our professional standards, curriculum and ethics are being shaped by people outside of our profession has been studied too by others. But I didn’t learn about it in my program. Diane Ravitch and other educational scholars writing about the issue have pointed out that our professional standards and almost really the entire way K-12 is packaged and provided to our nation’s students is being decided upon outside of the reach and influence of K-12 teachers. And really, think about this for a second. Doctors, lawyers, and really any board certified occupation uses its own professionals to shape their laws, code of ethics and the like.
Trina (00:10:23) – And the idea that anyone else should have anything to do with that process is frightening to us, right? We need the people on the ground floor amassing that knowledge because we want to be sure that only the most knowledgeable people with the most experience are calling those shots. That’s not the case in K-12. And because we have publicly funded free schooling educational systems, it’s tethered to our politics. Getting back to the politics like we did in episode one with teacher pay. We talked about this in that episode. But the deal is that because we have decided to allow for a large degree of what we call local control over how the little amount of money we get is spent, we went ahead and decided to use locally elected officials in the form of school board members as our final authority. Okay. The issue here is that they’re not educational experts or even like superficially educated in our field at all and are instead usually using folks with political aspirations who see school board positions as a stepping stone to other politics. Would we allow the public to choose a bunch of people to run the American Medical Association? No, we would not, because we all understand that you got to allow the people with the education and knowledge, the freedom to make the most ethical and informed decisions.
Trina (00:11:44) – So why have we then decided to let school boards run our schools? And the deal here is that really, in the end, we are all basically tethered to them to. Like you may say, well, school boards don’t hire teachers. And that’s true. But they do hire superintendents and they in turn hire the school and district leaders who then in turn hire us. So, yeah, we’re all basically beholden to the school boards who are themselves tied to the political will of their constituents. Okay. So this winds up being a huge issue because we’ve created this godawful tiered educational system, which means that if you want to get your kid into a good top tier school or the best one that you can, you have to move to that neighborhood. And then, of course, you wind up with the property values being tied to the continued or improved, quote, efficacy of these schools. Right. It needs to be mentioned here too. Of course, that because of the wholesale and intentional exclusion of African Americans from the American dream of generational wealth and home ownership, any practice which excludes lower socioeconomic groups will also have a very outsized impact on them and other racial and ethnic minorities.
Trina (00:12:59) – But what we can see here in the end is that school success becomes a commodity. It has a real dollar value on it, which animates people. They wind up rushing to find some, quote, magic bullet which they can implement, whether it’s a curriculum approach, a character education, equity framework, an approach to student discipline. They want these things quickly and on the cheap, and they want easy to implement full proof metrics to prove that they are all working. And they don’t get any of that from us, the teachers, because they don’t see us as experts due to the structural sexism and gender biases in our education and our society. Any time we get a chance to speak up on the rare occasion that one of us was able to see all of the oppression for what it is and has actually enlightened ideas in a fresh perspective because we’re excluded from that investigative process, not because we’re too dumb. We just don’t get a chance to see it right. But whenever we have these insights, they don’t want it because it’s nuanced and requires more work to implement.
Trina (00:14:06) – Also, if you’re really cynical and sometimes I am, you might think that they actually prefer things exactly as they are and they don’t want to change anything at all. But even in the kindest interpretation of why teachers are not brought into the work, much less leading it, you can still see that K-12 leaders, school boards and superintendents don’t want any complications. They want to be able to sell the homeowners on a notion that all of our problems and our very, very complicated and often oppressive society can be fixed with some one size fits all approach that we bought from someone else. They want simpler and why ends up being inauthentic? Things that they can say they’ve implemented and they can say they have proof that what they are doing is working, using tests and assessments which have been created to prove that which are very tailored to creating the data that they want to show. And it seems like a well-kept secret in US K-12 education that, well, to the extent to which what we’re doing isn’t working, our literacy rates in the world ranked in the world are in the bottom third, and yet we’re the wealthiest nation in the world.
Trina (00:15:24) – And you could arguably say that literacy rates are like the most salient data point to see if you’re actually educating your population. Well, and we’re going to unpack that in a future episode. But a lot of people know anecdotally that this is true because we’re just not producing enough highly literate and thoughtful people to staff our white collar professions. We know this because we have to look outside of the US workforce for medical professionals, tech employees. We know we’re not educating our population well, and a big part of that is due to the fact that no one stays in these school board positions long enough for the power seats in a school district, long enough to be called to account for the fact that they’re not really doing much to fix it and they’re not following through with their promises. But in this effort to like give people this idea that we have this foolproof, easy to implement, really dummy proof system because we don’t trust teachers to think we got to give them a dummy proof pedagogically dense curriculum so they don’t have to think, right.
Trina (00:16:31) – We wind up with canned curriculum. But this is a more complicated issue than that, because we’re not saying that you shouldn’t be given some content to teach, that it shouldn’t be expertly curated and cultivated, especially when you’re brand new to the profession, right?
Amanda (00:16:49) – Yeah. I mean, when I first started teaching, I was really grateful to the to the canned curriculum that was given to me because I did feel very overwhelmed because it’s not like there’s a shortage of ideas out there about how to be an engaging, effective teacher. I almost feel like there’s too much there’s too many ideas out there. And so when I when some when I was given it was called Open Court by Houghton Mifflin, I was teaching fourth grade. I was really excited. And I went home and I read through it and I, I, I really, I was, yeah, thrilled that I had something that I could use. But at the same time, there was a lot. And then we were told that we had to follow it with fidelity.
Amanda (00:17:44) – You don’t stray from this and it won’t work unless you do it to fidelity. And what I found as a first year teacher was that it was like to do it with fidelity was incredibly boring and it was leading to misbehavior like my students were misbehaving in my classroom and not engaged because I was teaching like a robot and.
Trina (00:18:13) – Totally.
Amanda (00:18:14) – Discovered workshop reading and writing workshop and that and reading all sorts of different books, you know, about teaching a love of reading and helping students see themselves as writers with voices and like being able to share their point of view with the community and make an impact on our community through writing. And it just seems so much more relevant to the real world than Houghton Mifflin. So I started steering in that direction. But even that curriculum, like units of study, was so wordy and way to hard to figure out like one lesson was really like six lessons. It could take a whole week. And so I just started. I mean, the way that I started writing my own curriculum was I started just writing really simplified versions of units of study lessons, like one pagers kind of for because I was just like, This is too much.
Amanda (00:19:20) – I’m going to take this one lesson and turn it into six different one page lessons that I can like have with me during my lessons. And then I started to realize that I had way better idea. Well, in my opinion, I just thought I had way better ideas of what to teach and what order and like how to make it more engaging or relevant to my students lives and pop culture and their interests. And I thought it would be really awesome to have it all live on my Google Drive editable so that teachers could change it based on the students that they have, You know? And I think.
Trina (00:19:59) – Oh, wait, wait, wait. That’s the key. Based on the students that you have in a class during a year, the vibe of a cohort, the, you know, the demographics at your site, that is key. I’m sorry. That is kind of everything that’s wrong with canned canned curriculum. But please continue.
Amanda (00:20:17) – Yeah. Yeah. And I, I think that that’s, that’s the, the beauty of being a teacher.
Amanda (00:20:24) – The art of teaching is being able to pivot and and change and adapt to what your students are interested in and what your students. Yes. Your input. Yeah. And and what they need because each class is different. Like some years I have a group of students that can’t sit still, you know, and they’re just like so vocal and so they need a lot more movement, you know, and a lot more opportunities to talk. Whereas other classes are super quiet and like, fine with just sitting at a desk and like typing on their Chromebooks, you know, and being. And so, yeah, every class is has its own personality and its own needs and, and so yeah, can curriculum mean it might work for certain types of classes and students but not all of them. You know the.
Trina (00:21:26) – Problem is that there’s a real disparity between individual teachers abilities to. Do that. So this profession is not super attractive to very creative, innovative and self-possessed people for the reasons we discussed in the first two episodes.
Trina (00:21:44) – So what you wind up with are potentially and you know, this has happened. I’m going to be naming names here, definitely not because I love teachers, but we all know teachers like this who just are not rising to the occasion. They’re just not they they don’t feel valued. So why should they put the time in? The profession is beating down on them. They’re not person a person who’s, you know, inclined to be self-possessed or creative with anything in life.
Amanda (00:22:16) – Honestly, I’m kind of jealous of a teacher that can show up, do their job, and then go home and separate work from home, you know, and like really like just do the bare minimum when it comes to their and it’s more of a job rather than a calling or like something that they feel very passionate about.
Trina (00:22:40) – It’s a different type of mindset, right? It’s a person who doesn’t feel the need to be creative at work, or maybe they’re just not a creative person in general.
Amanda (00:22:52) – Yeah, they just, you know, that’s fine, right?
Trina (00:22:54) – And that’s fine, especially when you’re paying what you’re paying.
Trina (00:22:57) – Yeah. You get what you get. You get what you pay for sometimes. And there’s a need for all different types in our profession. The problem with that is that you definitely need creative and innovative people to push boundaries and create dissent. When we’re messing up. And you’ve got to give those people the space to run with their good ideas, collaborate and lead. And that’s really the problem, is that the people who are best at teaching are often not in positions of leadership. And so we talk about can curriculum. Let’s just back the truck up just a second. We’re talking about pedagogically dense. Thick books handbooks that we are given that have and we I want to try to unpack this for people who are not teachers, right? So it has all of the lesson activities, what we would call formative assessment and the content that you’re going to be teaching. And then you have the same summative assessment so that you’re sort of you’re sort of estimating how well kids picked up skills at the end of a unit using these these strategies that they’ve these assessment strategies that they’ve given you.
Trina (00:24:14) – And you also have thick scripts of things you’re supposed to be reading and they’re just really isn’t a lot of room for you to pivot and shift. And most of the time there’s too much in there to cover, right? Amanda Like, yes, too much. And they throw tons of bells and whistles and like, you know, now that everything you get online curriculum, like you have to press these buttons and you go here and then these screens open and there’s this and this and this and it’s it’s overwhelming. It truly is overwhelming. And the the problem is, is that hidden in all of that stuff or all of the things that the kids need to learn. But you’re as a teacher, if you’re not given the ability to have agency over any of this material and you haven’t had the experience of curating and cultivating your own curriculum, you’re not good at picking out what needs to be taught and what can be left behind. And so teachers right now that are being given really thick, pedagogically dense curriculum content, dense canned curriculum packages are having to make these choices and are and are often choosing choosing badly or they are trying to get through too much and leaving the exact kids that we’re trying to help behind.
Trina (00:25:31) – Right. That’s yeah.
Amanda (00:25:32) – That was me. That was me when I was following my curriculum. I can’t curriculum to fidelity was trying to do it all. And yeah, it was, yeah. Leaving kids behind and leading to disengagement. But what about I mean, I know that there are a lot of administrators out there and district leaders that believe that. And I can see this point here that every school needs to be giving access to the same learning to every student. And that’s like equality. And that’s part of the reason that can curriculum exist is so that everyone’s on the same page and and everyone’s getting access to the same.
Trina (00:26:22) – I, I agree. I agree that everybody should be on the same page, but that page should not come from canned curriculum because there’s a better way to do it that requires more nuance and really leans heavily into the expertise of your teachers. So when I was in my administrative preparation program getting my admin credential, I learned about something called value added scores. And this is kind of controversial a little bit.
Trina (00:26:49) – I feel eked out by it. But basically what it is, is a measurement of how well a teacher is adding new skills year over year. Which is tied to aspect, which is the Common Core. Common Core State standards testing. And to want to look at value added scores as a measurement of teacher efficacy requires that you believe in Common Core State standards in the first place. And are they perfect? No. And as I’m you know, I’m a punk rock emo person. You know me. And so I resist against some of this stuff. But I have to say, I kind of get Common Core. Like, I believe in Common Core. Is it perfect? No. I think for like, we teach sixth grade, I mean, we’ve taught other grades. I currently teach sixth grade, but like, I don’t believe everything is developmentally appropriate in there. I have pushed back. I will always argue for the most logical, most correct version of a thing as I see it. However, I do believe in the Common Core State standards.
Trina (00:27:49) – What are your thoughts on Common Core like? Just be honest with me.
Amanda (00:27:54) – Huh? That’s a really good question. Well, I, I, I was going to ask you a follow up question about what is not relevant for sixth graders in the Common Core. Like you kind of mentioned that you felt like some of of it was not maybe you said age appropriate. And we’ve had conversations about this before, and I totally agree with you, but I think it’s kind of repetitive, honestly, like because I developed my own curriculum and it can be used. The same unit that I wrote can be used in sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, and even ninth. The same Common Core standards can apply to from all of those grades to those lessons. So for example, like personal narrative, for example. Yeah, in every I haven’t looked at the ninth grade. I’m about to go teach ninth grade. It’s the first time I’ve mentioned that to anyone. You dig. But but like they’re all very similar, like, yeah.
Trina (00:28:55) – No they are.
Amanda (00:28:56) – And, and it’s repetitive and I feel like kids are like, Wait, didn’t I already do that last year? Like, why am I doing it again? And yes, I know like it’s important for kids to like get repeated practice and that’s really key. But like, when we emphasize like we spend an entire quarter writing personal narratives in fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, it’s just like, what? How why is this so important? I really I don’t know. But think about it. I don’t really like the Common Core because of that.
Trina (00:29:32) – Okay. But listen, we have the benefit of having taught all subjects, and I think that’s super invaluable, especially because we’ve taught all subjects, you know, I’ve taught all subjects to sixth grade. That’s a pretty high level to be teaching all subjects. So it gives you like an understanding of all the subjects in a pretty unique and important way, because nowadays most people don’t ever teach sixth grade all subjects.
Trina (00:29:55) – Um, but which is a whole other conversation. But each subject has its own problems and has to be talked about sort of uniquely a little bit with canned curriculum because I do think canned curriculum is very useful for math. Do you agree with that statement? It’s more it has more of a place for math.
Amanda (00:30:14) – Yeah, for sure. But I also think you can get creative with the way you teach math too.
Trina (00:30:20) – You can, especially the way Common Core has, is teaching it, which is being inventive and playful with your algorithms and your strategies, right? Like you’re not just teaching the standard algorithm. I love that. And my kid benefited greatly because my kid is 16 and he was a kid who was total Common Core baby like he was only given Common Core math and he uses different algorithms to do different types of, you know, five, six digit multiplication that I don’t even know how to use. Like he he found strategies that work for him. I love that. However, you’re not going to sit up at night writing up math assessments and then having to do all those calculations and get those answers like can curriculum is necessary in math? Yeah, Yeah.
Trina (00:31:07) – And I mean, I know of people who are not who are not given curriculum, who are math teachers, and I think that is totally unfair, you know. Do you agree with that?
Amanda (00:31:16) – Yeah. Yeah. No, I definitely found more value following with Fidelity, math, can curriculum and even science. What about history? What do you think about history?
Trina (00:31:29) – Yeah, I was actually just thinking about history because, you know, that was my subject. I got my undergraduate degree in anthropology and I feel like really self possessed around that. You know, it’s not tied to Common Core. There is no common Core standards for history. The problem with the curriculum, and I actually really like that we’re talking about this for each subject because it’s unique and that way, like every kind of teacher feels represented in this conversation. The deal with Canon curriculum for history is there are a lot of biases in history, in the history of books, in the sixth grade curriculum that I am teaching for history, I teach ancient civilizations.
Trina (00:32:07) – There are four chapters of European. We cover the entire all of human history, all the way up to 500, 500 common era, Right. And we go all the way from human evolution from about 7 million years ago. Covering know is definitely not even arguably like ask any scholar in this field the most important moment in that period of history, the most pivotal, pivotal moment for change, which is the invention of farming, which happened in the Middle East. Right. And then we quickly move to Mesopotamia, Egypt. Then we go like China. Um, and you know, we spend in each of those is only one chapter. So the farming, the invention of farming is one lesson. I think it’s this whole lesson. It’s like a page and a lesson inside of a chapter, right? And then at the very end of the book, after you’ve, you know, and we do Ancient India as well, all of those are one chapter each. But then you get to the end of the book and there’s two long chapters for Greece and two long chapters for Rome.
Trina (00:33:20) – So if you and of course, you don’t have enough time to teach all of those chapters and you ask yourself, how do we wind up with such a Eurocentric white bias curriculum? It’s not fair. It belies white privilege. It’s just one of the many problems in a more nuanced, potentially biased type of curriculum. And in ELA and history, it’s it’s more fraught with those issues than science and math, though it can be in science, too. Like science books can be very politicized. What do you what are your thoughts at that point?
Amanda (00:33:57) – Yeah, Yeah. No, I totally agree. I feel like the curriculum needs to reflect your student population. And most of the students that we teach are Asian, right? So I feel like we should be spending way more time teaching Asian history and reading, you know, texts in English that are from, you know, the Asian point of view, because that’s what’s reflected in front of, you know what I mean? Like, I feel like that’s one of the big pushes when it comes to promoting equity and social justice is like what? Like teachers need to or students need to be able to see themselves in the lessons that curriculum that we’re teaching.
Trina (00:34:43) – Well, I mean, if you’re going to try to give an objective representation of what is most salient about ancient history, regardless of who’s your kids are, that what I just described isn’t even that, because I asked my own department once, like, why do you guys think there are four chapters, four long chapters of European history and an ancient civilizations textbook? And their reply was, because these are the chapters that have most impact to American culture. Well, first of all, that’s highly debatable. Secondly, who decided that’s the litmus of what makes something more important than something else? You ask an anthropologist or an ancient historian, they would completely dispute that fact. Right. Like that’s not real. And so if you have can curriculum that you’re really beholden to and you have a lot of pressure to follow, like we have, you know, some of us are more than others, you’re not able to apply your knowledge, your content area knowledge to like mitigate the harm of biased content. That’s another thing, right? But with ELA, two ELA in particular sort of defies good can content.
Trina (00:35:54) – It it, it is one of those subjects that it’s just not does not lend itself particularly well to can curriculum. I mean you could argue a point in the opposition of this fact but I think of all the subjects in particular is is just one of the trickiest. And I think it’s important to notice that ELA is not just one subject, right? It’s reading. And it’s writing and it’s understanding literature. It’s really three subjects. And in the elementary years, ELA is given more than an hour block in the day, right? Like you’re given an hour and a half to two hours a day because you have a lot of content to cover. And part of that is because learning to teach reading English in particular is very problematic because our language is not phonetic, right? It isn’t and it’s not intuitive. And so we have to allocate a considerably more amount of time to teaching, reading and writing our language because it’s so fraught with problems and it breaks its own rules. And you know, if for kids with dyslexia in particular, you wind up really needing strong, very knowledgeable reading teachers who are able to pivot on a whim to meet the ever changing needs of her students.
Trina (00:37:15) – I say her because why? Most of the K through three teachers who teach reading are mostly female, and the fact that they don’t wind up in positions of leadership is a big factor of why we make poor decisions about reading instruction at the district office level. But all this is to say that in particular is a subject area that does not lend itself very well to can curriculum. I mean, would you argue at that point?
Amanda (00:37:43) – Well, I know you haven’t listened to the podcast, sold a story. Have you listened to that series yet? So it’s all about reading curriculum and how how we’ve failed our students, especially K through three when it comes to really well, preparing teachers to teach reading and focusing on phonics and really, really focusing on it much more than we currently do. Most schools currently do and that the units of study Lucy Calkins and the reading and writing project most schools utilize her units of study in the K through three classrooms. It’s supposedly balanced literacy, but really they teach the cueing way of reading, which is using like context clues and guessing at words.
Amanda (00:38:40) – And really the idea that kids will just learn to read if we give them really high quality, engaging books at their level, you know, and leveled readers and, and how problematic those are. It’s a really, really good series and so informative. I really, really I mean, but I, I and there were a lot of teachers that listen to it and, you know, it’s all about the reading wars and it is it does talk about the politics behind all of it and how politics affect the curriculum that schools.
Trina (00:39:12) – Absolutely absolutely And I think like the principals that they were I mean, I’m very familiar with these arguments. Right? So I fought against and worked through a lot of those, like polarizing ideas about reading instruction. When I designed the pilot that I put in place for reading intervention at one of my sites. But like the ideas that you’re talking about, like a guided reading model where a kid is like encouraged to part of it’s like a guided reading model where a kid is encouraged to read out loud, use their context clues and continue to like improve on what we call prosody and fluency.
Trina (00:39:47) – Right?
Amanda (00:39:48) – Yes. And what basically the point I was trying to make was that I feel like there needs to be more canned curriculum to teach phonics.
Trina (00:39:57) – Yeah, no, exactly. That’s exactly what I’m going to say. I’m reading there does need to be more curriculum to teach phonics. The thing is, is even with canned curriculum, you still need strong veteran teachers navigating those waters.
Amanda (00:40:12) – So we’ve talked extensively about what can curriculum is and the downsides of it, but also that it is necessary, especially for newer new teachers and also in order to make sure that all students are being given equal resources. But how how is this contributing to the teacher shortage, Trina? And what can we do about it?
Trina (00:40:44) – Yeah, I mean, I don’t have a problem with teachers being given a curriculum in general, right? But the fact that it’s being created by these textbook companies that are so far removed from the realities of the ground floor of what we’re seeing in our classrooms is the problem. And the way to address this is I mean, we have the Common Core State standards, for example, for ELA.
Trina (00:41:05) – We have a starting point, but we need to lean into the expertise of our veteran teachers that we have on hand and and to really suss out who’s doing the best job and the extent to which we believe. Believe that Common Core State standards, for example, or whatever formal assessments we’re using, are a true representation of the skills we want the kids to learn. If we believe that these assessments, whether it’s end of year testing or state benchmark, whatever that we’re using, if we believe those are an adequate resource for us to be using. You’ve got to evaluate the value added score. You have to look at the teacher who somehow managing to show more year over year skill acquisition in their kids based on where the kids started and where the kids wind up at the end of the year. And there’s a lot of mitigating situations that can affect that. It’s a little nuance for this conversation, but they are slightly problematic, but teasing everything out to find the teacher who happens to have a magic formula. It could be in their pedagogy, it could be in their classroom management.
Trina (00:42:11) – It’s probably a combination of many things and using that, using that person as your resource to create your curriculum, to create and the formative and summative assessments for the kids. So really putting that position, that person in a position of leadership, because we have a diverse society, we’re very heterogeneous. A Can curriculum does not work for all of our kids. And especially coming out of this pandemic where we have like I know that you’ve seen this too, like there’s learning losses. We know that kids are coming to us very different now than they were before the pandemic. But what I am noticing is that every year I’m getting kids who are a little bit younger when the schools were shut down and they’re coming to me with a unique set of different problems every year, different holes in their skill sets, different and strange behavioral problems too. It’s it’s interesting and it’s scary at the same time. Like I have to be extremely dynamic and very flexible to meet their needs. And can curriculum prevents us from doing that.
Trina (00:43:18) – Like what I want to do is every year figure out who’s got a good idea of how to teach this content, what strategies are working best, who’s figured something out very special for this specific demographic group and put them in a position of leadership. It is a nuanced take. And the big problem in education is we lack nuance. But the idea that these textbook companies know something that the veteran teachers on hand do not is insulting. It is truly insulting. So, yes, give a can curriculum to new teachers. Does it need to be created by outsource consultants? No. It can be created by us to some extent, like we just talked about before. We’re not going to sit around and make math problems. We need a curriculum for that. But we have these eloquent state standards in the form of Common Core that we believe in and that teachers know how to create assessments and their own content to teach. The other idea is taking just a can curriculum that is very pared down, that doesn’t have a ton of stuff on it.
Trina (00:44:26) – That is really just getting the what is most important across to the kids and then letting those teachers tailor their teaching strategies, their formative and summative assessments to meet the dynamic needs of their kids. And then finally, and I cannot stress this enough, the pacing guides have got to go, like this idea that we’re all supposed to be in lockstep with one another is ludicrous. I’m not going to be necessarily in lockstep from one class to another. I may have kids in the side of the same class that are in different places. That is what good teaching is. You have to be very responsive to the unique needs of your kids. And we also have this really like, highly celebrated idea in our pedagogy known as Universal Design for Learning or UDL, where you teach to multiple intelligences and you use a variety of formative and summative assessment types, you have to pivot to the unique needs of your kids. This curriculum, this can curriculum, especially in ELA, does not let you do that. It just doesn’t.
Trina (00:45:35) – And oftentimes in ELA you’re given story excerpts and short stories and are discouraged from reading full novels. And that is so that the textbook companies can throw a bunch of promises into those curriculums. They’re selling the district saying, Hey, we teach this, we teach this, we teach this, when in fact, like for us who teach middle school. Those are the prime reading for fun years, and we’re literally killing that joy in our kids by not letting them choose their own novels and read them all the way to fruition. You can teach the Common Core State standards with their with the novels that they are even choosing with your own silent, sustained reading programs. So we’re and we’re and we’re making kids write too many essays in the middle school years too. I hate to talk too much about middle school because I want this to be applicable to everyone, but there’s just a lot of things that we’re doing that are killing kids, natural love, killing the teachers, creative energy and self agency around creating, you know, dynamic content which meets the needs of the kids that are seeing that year, which is really important for post-pandemic education.
Trina (00:46:50) – And the Can curriculum has a place, but it needs to be it needs to be put off to the side and used in moderation and minimally if possible at times. And it can’t it doesn’t necessarily need to be created by expensive textbook companies. That’s what I say.
Amanda (00:47:11) – I love that. And I, I, we were talking earlier before this. Episode about. Often the most effective teachers are the quietest and don’t really, you know, speak up during staff meetings or during like PLC. And that’s what PLC meetings feel like or meetings with your, your subject area team or your grade level team. Like I think they were intended for this, you know, for, for teachers to look at data and see, okay, who’s class is doing really well and oh wow, look, you know, Miss English’s class is really understanding the concept. What did you do to to get those scores or to get those students to do so? Well, But I think it really it’s very uncomfortable, I think, for teachers to sit in meetings with each other and to have one teachers craft, you know, upheld and everyone’s maybe even a little bit feeling like, I don’t know, animosity towards that teacher that’s doing really, really well.
Amanda (00:48:24) – And those test scores are like reflecting how well they’re doing. And so there’s a little bit of like competition. So I don’t I love what you’re saying about like how maybe administrators could be doing this legwork and maybe using multiple data points, like not just the test scores, but also student surveys about their teachers, asking the students how how much did you learn and how did you feel in this class? And anonymous surveys of students can be so enlightening. I mean, a.
Trina (00:49:00) – Good teacher is getting that information like I have the kids give me critical feedback in the form of a Google form every day, right? Yeah, Every day I read a spreadsheet and I read and evaluate how well they just sort of how what they think about my teaching and also for them to reflect on their learning. That’s like a big part of my practice. That’s a lot of data to look at. But I mean, I understand what you’re saying that we’re we feel nervous, we feel jealous. We don’t, you know, because a lot to a large extent, some of us have stronger personalities and are genuinely just more in love with our students than others of us.
Trina (00:49:41) – And that comes across and the kids respond to that. Right. So there could be some of that like special sauce type stuff which is not teachable or reproducible.
Amanda (00:49:50) – Yeah.
Trina (00:49:51) – And again, you’re not getting those highly dynamic people that are super creative that we should be getting this profession because of the low pay, because of the onerous conditions that we’ll talk about in future episodes. And we also talked about in the preparatory episode. And so you’re getting this like you’re getting the typical personality profile of a teacher is somebody who is very risk averse, who is tends to like do what they’re told, who isn’t going to rock the boat and isn’t going to be that dissenting voice in the room. Now, I’ve been in places where that was absolutely not true, but those are like anomalous. Again, looking at the teaching profession as a whole. So when you do have one of those type of people who is a radical, who is trying out all the stuff like you or me, and they’ve tried to talk to their fellow teachers about what they’re doing and they haven’t listened.
Trina (00:50:50) – They shut up and they just sort of quietly go do their own thing because we do have tenure. And so, yes, we can have a lot of pressure to be in lockstep. And it’s it can be really difficult to be that one teacher who’s not following what everyone else is doing. But what you do is you just sort of quietly recoil in staff, meaning you’re not the teacher of the year, right? You’re definitely not teacher of the year. You are you are that person off to the side that the kids and the parents love, but not necessarily the other teachers on site. Right. So it’s the responsibility of good administrators if they’re given the power to do so, which I don’t think that they are, to really suss out who’s got it going on and who should be leading, what’s happening with teacher development and really overwriting or adding to or taking away from their curriculum.
Amanda (00:51:40) – Yeah, I agree. And being compensated for it if if this is what happens, you know, like I would love a job just, you know.
Amanda (00:51:51) – Coming up with engaging lessons for other teachers to implement and coaching them on how to implement it and things like that. I think it would be really wonderful to have. More positions like that in schools, like just really, really high quality teachers. Really effective teachers.
Amanda (00:52:10) – Agree. And and like being supportive of other teachers, but. Again, there is that kind of dynamic of like, oh, like a power dynamic because I’ve run professional developments before and. It can be, you know? Yeah. Being in that kind of authority position and, like, why her? Like, why is she. Well, because I volunteered, you know, usually. But like, you know, that’s going through people. I mean, it’s gone through my head before when I’ve been just sitting in the audience, you know, participating in a professional development. And I, I think, you know, teachers who are effective, like being put in positions of authority, I think they need to not be teaching then, like, what do you think?
Trina (00:53:03) – Yeah, I agree. I do think that they do. School districts do need to lean in more heavily into putting like we have this designation and teacher on special assignment. And those are usually teachers that are in a position of leadership over other teachers, but they aren’t compensated for that. Like they’re still just wherever they were on their stipend column. And that’s unfortunate, right? Because school, once you get your credential and you’re formally in a leadership job, you don’t really have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the classroom like you used to anymore and you’re overwhelmed. Like I don’t I firmly believe and I tell this to my school principal all the time, like it’s not a job that you can actually do. It’s just too much work. And, you know, teacher satisfaction is low. Something like 75% of teachers right now in the nation are not satisfied with their job. But administrator, especially site level administration is even lower. That is that is a really hard job. And they get really the poop end of the stick.
Trina (00:54:05) – Any way you look at it like I, I see site leaders as you know part of us I don’t think don’t look at them and say oh your management they are with it. They’re in the thick of it with us. And I have a lot of compassion for them. And you know, those are the people that want are going to district office. So I actually have compassion for them, too. Like, like I said before, this is not us versus them between teachers and district office management, although there’s so much antagonism sometimes between us all, it’s really all of us against society. And, you know, the job that we’re being asked to do is just so big and so short. Cuts are being taken and corners are being cut and canned Curriculum is just one of those shortcuts that winds up hurting kids.
Amanda (00:54:54) – Yeah. Wow. So are there any other things that we haven’t talked about when it comes to can curriculum contributing to the teacher shortage that you want to bring up now? I think you mentioned something about low income schools and substitutes and teachers leaving those schools and then kids in those schools just being given canned curriculum.
Trina (00:55:24) – Yeah. Okay. So the canned curriculum movement in recent years since I’ve been in the profession because again, I know this because I’ve taught in many different educational settings, in different socioeconomic and racial and ethnic demographic settings, and that is very valuable. I highly encourage teachers to move around now, step in column and years and years of service, make that very hard. But I have had this benefit, so I feel really lucky. The deal is canned curriculum came on more in a big way with the teacher shortage because remember when the.com bubble burst, our profession, this is like 2001 two was flooded with talent, flooded with talent. We had some we were flush with teachers and substitutes no longer. And that is not the case. So this is a more of a modern this iteration of it’s more of a modern recent problem with the teacher shortage. And so as those teacher shortages started to become more and more and more prominent, they first the canary in the coal mine are the low SES communities.
Trina (00:56:32) – And these are communities that are, you know, overwhelmingly African American and other racialized ethnic minorities. So they’re, you know, getting they’re having they’ve had the teacher shortage problem problem in there for years. And this is really a racial source of racial oppression for sure. The teacher shortage problem. And so they put these canned curriculums in there to mitigate that harm. So not only do they not have a ton of veteran teachers, like I said in another episode, they often frequently don’t even have teachers with credentials or even worse. Subs so they can curriculum is in there to sort of take all of the guesswork out of teaching to mitigate that harm in that in you know, that sucks. But I understand why the accounting curriculum is there in those instances. And like we said before, it works in some subjects better than better than others. But when you give canon curriculum to a veteran teacher who knows her kids really well and is doing really well on their own, until I’m teach this and you don’t honor their expertise, ask them what they’re doing.
Trina (00:57:49) – Put them in positions of leadership. You are wasting your most valuable resource by outsourcing that to curriculum companies. It’s just ridiculous.
Amanda (00:58:02) – Wow. Yeah. You just basically summed up this entire episode right there in that last sentence. So thank you. This is great. Thank you so much, Trina. I just appreciate you so incredibly much for coming on here and helping us better understand all of all of these issues.
Trina (00:58:24) – Well, and the next episode, we’re going to talk about equity and how the false promises made by equity frameworks and equity leadership in education is driving people out of our profession. And it is also a can framework. It’s a one size fits all approach, which is highly exclusionary. Right. And I also want to talk about in that, you know, transition from curriculum to equity is the can character education that is really deeply oppressive to the diversity of our students. That is also being enforced in schools as well. So we’ll start the next conversation. Still talking a little bit about canned curriculum in regards to canned frameworks regarding character education and K-12 equity based reforms.
Trina (00:59:17) – Because it’s all canned, isn’t it?
Amanda (00:59:21) – It sure is. Um, yeah, and it’s it’s an interesting thing happening these days in education. I know that veteran teachers know this, that there are trends, you know, and I think a lot of teachers are. A little bit put off by equity in education and social justice. And these terms, you know, are mindfulness and meditation and.
Trina (00:59:48) – Oh, hello. Is that Aria?
Amanda (00:59:53) – Yes. So we’re going to end it here. Thank you, everyone, for listening. And we’ll talk more about this on the next episode.