Teaching Secondary English: Readings and Applications

By Daniel Sheridan | Go to book overview
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learning, because that is where I began in my planning. And I'm more confident in changes of plan because I feel better prepared.

There is no magic in this. It is embarrassingly commonsensical. I can't even argue that it takes a lot of time and effort, for in fact my planning is more efficient now because I am less frequently baffled by all the decision making that goes into teaching. And I am certainly not arguing that a simple change in my planning habits has transformed me into one of those great teachers that we all admire. Would that it were so. On the other hand, I have learned quite a bit about myself as a teacher through this habit of writing-before-teaching. The binaries, the conflicting roles, are more apparent to me now, and when I write about them I feel less paralyzed. It helps to make a space for myself in my reflections on teaching; being student-centered, I've come to see, does not mean effacing yourself as a teacher. In the end, of course, writing this way is something I do for myself. This is the way I can bring planning more in line with a more thorough sense of preparedness.

Thus, despite all the differences, this mode of planning has returned me, in an odd way, to my earlier days as a student teacher. The students are much more real to me now, and I have gotten over some (not all) of that need to authorize myself. And I have acknowledged that “it” (what students will do, what I will do, who will learn what) does indeed “depend.” But I am still exploring my sense of myself as a teacher, still creating and re-creating myself as a teacher. Those early plans, like the one on Animal Farm, were necessary to me; I couldn't have taught without them. Now I plan by writing; I couldn't teach without it.


Elbow, Peter. Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. New York: Oxford, 1986.

For Further Thought

1. Think about the distinction between preparation and planning. Does this make sense to you? Can you think of teachers who have planned but seemed unprepared? How could you tell? Conversely, can you think of teachers who are prepared but seem not to have planned? Mrs. Martinez (pp. 72–78) seems to be a teacher of this sort.

2. Consider the Animal Farm plan that is described in the essay. Does it remind you of plans that you have written? What is the real function of a plan like this? Do you think that all new teachers have to focus first on the content of the lesson?

3. Do you think there are really stages in the development of a teacher? (I know I seem to imply this by saying that I went through various stages as a planner.) If you do believe in stages, which stage are you in?

4. The essay suggests that there is something paradoxical in planning to teach. We plan, I say, but in the end we know that “it all depends.” On what do teaching and learning depend? What, after all, is the point of planning?


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