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Choices in the Classroom

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Abbey King Abbey King 640 Points

I'm not teaching yet, but was wondering about how much freedom teachers have to choose their assignments and activities. Going into this degree and each of my courses it seems as though teachers can choose what to teach and how they teach it. When I started observing a teacher for practicum hours, this did not seem true. It appeared as though she had to do very specific things and teach very specific lessons. I was wondering how current teachers feel about their current classroom autonomy. I am excited to teach either way, but am interested to hear different perspectives!

Charissa Barnhill Charissa Barnhill 2434 Points

I think this probably depends on which school you are in, but at the schools I have been in and observed, most are very team oriented. They want all of the teachers teaching a particular subject to be on the same page with lessons and activities. At the school I am working at now, we don't all have to be doing the same exact activity every day, but we must be teaching the same topic and we are doing an activity that is similar in content, rigor, and value for the students. We work together every week to write our lesson plans together, and so we all have the same choices for activites. We also take the same amount of grades and usually the activities we grade are more similar than different. This helps to keep everyone together when it comes to teaching the content, and it prevents students from being disadvantaged if they get one teacher over another. 

Ashalenia Graham Ashalenia Graham 985 Points

Hi!  I am not teaching yet either, but I also have wondered the same thing.  I have been introduced to several student-led appraoches and I wonder how I can do this in the classroom if I can only tach certain things at a certian time.  I watn to have an inquiry-based classroom, sometimes I just get nervous since as stated aove, most school are team based and want all teachers working together.. I am just wondring how I can implement what students are curious of at that given time if the rest of my team wants me teaching something completeley different.. any thoughts?

Camillia Ledbetter Camillia Ledbetter 960 Points


I think this definitely depends on the school in which you are working. At my school, they prefer for us to teach the same topics at the same time and plan together but that is about all of the guidelines they give. The teacher I plan with, however, prefers to teach the exact same thing each day. My preference would be closer to the school expectations. Teaching on the same timeline proves beneficial for lesson planning, collaborative classes and in case a student switches schedules. I prefer to have more leniency in the exact activities and materials I use though. You know what works best in your classroom with your students. You know which activities you will lead and teach better than others. This is how I feel the most comfortable in my classroom and how I feel I do the best for my students.

Gabe Kraljevic Gabe Kraljevic 4564 Points

Hello Abbey,

Great question.

The amount of autonomy teachers enjoy can be determined by either your state or province’s laws, decisions by the school board and superintendent, the school-level administration’s and even your science department’s philosophy.  I’ll call the spectrum you might encounter from proscribed to fully autonomous and I have experienced both.

The arguments in favor of proscribed labs, activities, lessons, and assessments are that it is considered fair to all students, teachers will know exactly what the incoming students have been taught, and students switching classes are easily transitioned.  Also, the organizers of the proscribed curriculum can assess how teachers are performing. Purchasing materials and supplies for labs is more efficient. 

Fully autonomous teachers can tailor their lessons to their students, respond quickly to new ideas or topical developments, take some risks in teaching methodology, adapt lessons for special needs students and perhaps feel more empowered overall and trusted as a professional. 

Considering that it is normally 7-15 years between curriculum reviews, a proscribed approach from any level of leadership may soon become dated unless there is concerted, ongoing review.  I have found that strong, vociferous personalities will often dictate or overwhelm the development of a proscribed set of lessons – ensuring that their favorite activities are ensconced.  In state-wide mandated lessons the educational resources may become scarce as teachers vie for their turns at the same time.

I have found that when teachers are autonomous in how they implement the mandated curriculum that science education can be vibrant and reactive, rather than stale and outdated.

Hope this helps!

Gabe Kraljevic

Gabe Kraljevic Gabe Kraljevic 4564 Points

Kelsey Funkhouser Kelsey Funkhouser 1280 Points

I am also a future teacher and really apprieciate your post and all of the replys from other teachers. I am assuming that teachers have a pretty good amount of freedom when choosing their assignments and activities as long as it goes with the subject that the rest of the grade is teaching. I have seen in a couple different school where all the teachers of each grade are teaching the same subject, but will use different activities and assignments then another. This also allows teachers to have a variety of options, allowing them all to share with one another and create engaging and fun activies and assingments!

Tara Cruz Tara Cruz 1090 Points

Hi Abbey! 

First off, awesome question. This something I also was confused about when I entered into the education field 4 years ago. However, like others have said on your post, it really depends on your school district/school that you work at. For the most part, you will probably have a curriculum to follow and will be encouraged to collaborate amongst your fellow team members/colleagues. Even with doing this, NO TEACHER IS EXACTLY LIKE ANOTHER! My partner teacher and I are VERY different and we are encouraged to teach how we know how to teach! I think that it truly depends on your district, but even with a curriculum to follow, you more than likely will be encouraged to be somewhat autonomous. 

Patrice Janyska Patrice Janyska 260 Points

It will all depend on where you work. Have it lived and worked In Several states it all depends on your school and school system. You will  have to follow state standards no matter where you teach, even most private schools use state standards as a guide. In one school I was able to teach the standards however I saw fit. One teacher gave note and worksheets, I did a combination of notes worksheets and hands on activities. This was before all the mandated testing. I have taught at a few other schools that purchased a specific curriculum and textbook for you to use. From there I could pick what I wanted to do but they wanted all of the teachers to use the same basic curriculum. I interviewed with a school 2 years ago that had a very specific curriculum from day 1 to day 180 was already planned out - I didn't take that job. This is a great question to ask in an interview, what kind of curriculum do you use and are all teachers of the same sub just required to do the same activities. 

Brittany Alao Brittany Alao 580 Points

At my school, the lessons are based on specific mandated standards. A team of teachers in the same content will collaborate and decide what it is they commonly want to teach which will relate to the standards. Although this is the case, teachers may not necessarily do the exact same activities in their classes.

Nicole Anthony Nicole Anthony 702 Points

I am a student-teacher as well, from what I have experienced through my placements so far and what I have learned. I feel that it depends from school to school. From my last placement, the teachers were given freedom on what activities they could do that corresponded to the curriculum but the two physical science teachers on each team were expected to be on the same page each day so the students were all getting the same material. This could vary at a different school.

Erica Herold Erica Herold 735 Points

At my school, I have full classroom autonomy. This is mostly related to me being the only 7th grade science teacher, so there's no one else I need to align with. In addition, my school has not adopted NGSS-aligned curriculum which means that I am able to create, design, and delete any of my units, lessons, and activities. 

But even if you end up at a school with less autonomy, there may be some wiggle room for you to redefine projects or activities to give you or the students more choice without necessarily breaking the mold. 

Either way, these are great questions to ask in an interview! Good luck!

Jake Schulke Jake Schulke 1035 Points

Well said! I'll cross my fingers for you in the hope the you retain the sam elevel of autonomy. Although many vendors claim that they have created an 'NGSS-Aligned Currliculum,' there is no such thing that you can buy pre-packaged. Failing to account for the students and individuals and your relationship with them is contrary to the NGSS framework itself. It takes bright, creative, decicated teachers like you to navigate the challenges of using locally-based phenomenae, student-driven inquiry, and your own understanding of their assets, interests and needs to really teach NGSS-aligned curriculum.


Good luck to us all!

Olivia Phillips Olivia Phillips 450 Points

Erica, I am a sophomore in college studying secondary sciecne education. In your school, you mentioned they have not adopted NGSS curriculum. I am wondering if you like or dislike not aligning your lessons with NGSS standards? Do you like having more freedom, or would you rather have NGSS-aligned curriculum? Thank you!

Jake Schulke Jake Schulke 1035 Points

This seems to depend a lot on the attitudes and degree of understanding of your upper and middle administrators (superintendent down to your site principals). Some are obsessed with what is commonly termed 'curriculum fidelity,' which is actually harmful to students, reduces equity, and is opposed to the core principals of NGSS. You'll have to feel it out at any job, be unafraid to advocate for higher quality leanring, and unafraid to find a better fit if the leaders don't listen to you about your students.

RaDezha Johnosn RaDezha Johnosn 800 Points

Hello, I think it all just depends on the school that you teach at and its state. There are some school that have mandated criteria that you are respected to teach. As i was doing my teaching practicum I noticed that teachers that taught the same grade level and subjects often collaborated on their lesson plans and shared their ideas and student worksheets with one another to teach their students. Working together allowed the teachers more time during their planning period and also ensured them that they would suceffully cover and teach their required learning materials to their studnents. When I become a teacher in the future, I will do the same being that it seemed to be a great qteaching strategy. 

Destiny Myers Destiny Myers 640 Points

Hi! I am also currently still obtaining my degree in elementary education, but I saw this thread and wanted to read on it because I have also wondered the same things. I wasn't sure if the school or corporation was the one to decide on this, so I found these comments super helpful!! From what I've seen in the schools that I have observed in, they didn't really seem to all teach the same things, just the same topics even if it was in a completely different way, so I was curious as well! 

Madison Meyers Madison Meyers 790 Points

I am obtaining my degree in elementary education right now as well and have always wondered about the flexability I would get in my own classroom about the what I get to teach as well as the way I would want to teach it. I like your comment in this thread because I relate to what you had to say and have seen one topic taught many different ways among different schools/districts. So, I too have been curious about the freedoms we get in our classrooms and how we setle on certain things. 

Yulissa Vasquez Yulissa Vasquez 100 Points

Hi! I was also wondering the same thing if they had the option to choose what kinds of assignments they wanted to use during class or the school itself chooses it for the teachers. I am not yet teaching in a school and these responses answered my questioned, thank you so much for providing useful information for my future as an incoming teacher. 

Olivia Phillips Olivia Phillips 450 Points

Like most of the replies, I am curious as to how much flexibility teachers have with activities and assignments. As a student, I think some activities are better and more beneficial than others, so I am hoping most assignments are not 'madatory.' It was intersting to read all of the replies. I mainly see that flexibility is determined by the school and teacher meetings. 

Ryan Stacy Ryan Stacy 520 Points

Hi Abbey, I am in my masters program for education and the way I have seen it from where I am from is it usually is set up district by district on what is taught. From my experiences it has been open for the teachers to teach it in the way they want to(labs, lecture, etc..) Sometimes it could be a collaboration with a Team of teachers and they will teach the lessons very similar to help each other stay on task and know what they need to teach to their students. I hope this helps a little in your teaching years.  

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