August 28, 2006

Textbook Pressure

Posted in curriculum at 8:46 pm by mrsmauck

Okay, I need some real teacher input. Am I living in a dream world to think that the students and I can actually select some of the texts we cover in each class? I was talking with my mother-in-law, a very able former H.S. English teacher, about some of the works I’d read lately, thinking about teaching them (Heart of Darkness, different YA novels). She quickly shot down these options say, “You have lots of ideas, but you just don’t have much time. There are so many things you have to cover, that you don’t have time to cover anything else.”

Okay, so what do I have to cover? Do your districts or states require that you cover certain works each year? I thought they provided you with textbooks and the “approved reading list” and then let you choose what you wanted to teach. I mean, I know there are certain works that all freshman English courses need to cover: Romeo & Juliet, etc. But is there absolutely no space for the teacher to supplement the curriculum with her own choices? Or for, heaven forbid, the students to select novels to read in lit circles? These were my plans and dreams, but now I’m feeling like they’re unrealistic.

Please, tell me how you negotiate teaching required works and your and the students’ choices.



  1. Tim Fredrick said,

    This really depends on where you teach. Some schools/districts will be very strict and tell you EXACTLY what is to be taught and when. Others will be so open that you can choose anything. There are schools/districts in between those extremes. This would be something you try to find out during a job interview.

  2. CaliforniaTeacherGuy said,

    More and more it’s getting to be like this: The district hands you the texts and a timeline and says, “Teach it when it’s supposed to be taught.” So in that sense, your mother-in-law is right. However, if you want some inspiration about a teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District who bucks that kind of system with no apologies whatsoever, read Rafe Esquith’s There Are No Shortcuts. Not every teacher can do what Esquith does (produce a complete Shakespeare play every year with his 5th graders!), but every teacher can find creative ways to bring other sources into the curriculum. Read Esquith. He’ll give you some good ideas. Honest!

  3. Miss Browneyedgirlie said,

    You hit the nail on the head with this post. I’m struggling with the same issues at the elementary level.

    Between NCLB, MA Curriculum Frameworks, and the MCAS (State Assessement tests), I’m wondering when I’ll have a chance to do actual TEACHING and not just teaching to all these tests and requirements.

    Such is the life of a 21st century teacher, I suppose.

  4. the reflective teacher said,

    Yeah, there should be a definitive list of required reading for freshmen. You may even have to check with your district office. I had a similar problem last year figuring out what was required, what was expected,and what I was allowed to teach — the best answers came from the other grade-level English teacher.

    If it ends up being just Romeo and Juliette, then you might have some wide open space to play with text selection: choose what you think is best for the kids and help them through it, or have them work on a self-selected text project (I know Tim Fredrick has a lengthy and informative post on this last option).

    Good luck, and let us know what you find out.

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