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Teaching as a Metaphor

Like a highway, I am concrete. I like structure. I need to see my destination. I’m comforted by parameters. Yet, like a meandering country lane, I like to take my time. I’m okay with changing my direction even though it might take me a little longer to reach my target.
Being asked to define my understanding of curriculum metaphorically presented some intellectual
conflict. The concrete thinker in me immediately went to the bible of teachers in BC – the IRP’s. But, my opposing side questioned its dogmatic specifications and seriously pondered the array of alternatives. Building on this conflict, reading Egan’s early writings on curriculum did little to help me answer my questions on who defines curriculum and instead posed a new debate – the roles of content and methodology in curriculum. But, more on this conundrum later…

Just as I can personally relate to the paths that take us on a journey, I see curriculum as a road map; a laid out plan that is both defined yet invites interpretation.
Looking at a map, we see the interconnect dots showing us the cities and towns which define the constructed geography. In educational terms these are our outcomes. Just as groups before us established these settlements, curriculum developers through time have determined the outcomes and standards which we must teach to. However, I am not so pragmatic as to see these markers, or goals, as only created by a higher power of curricular knowledge. Through a more practical and personal lense, I know that our destinations are often defined by the travelers – our students.

The numerous roads and highways that connect the cities and towns represent the paths that we take to reaching the goals. At times a traveler has no choice over how they will get to their destination – it’s all up to the driver. This is often the case for our students. Some teachers may travel a linear or well-worn path; one which has got them safely to that same location time and time again. Others may find that they are working on intuition. They have a keen sense of direction and are able to navigate through the obstacles or opportunities which are presented along their journey. In our classrooms and schools, these obstacles and opportunities are constantly arising. Availability of resources, student interests, ranges in students’ social, emotional and academic needs and readiness, district demands, professional development, community involvement and parental requests constantly affect the routes we take.

This naturally leads to how we navigate these roads. Selecting a mode of travel is a choice perhaps made of necessity or one made out of curiosity or a sense of adventure. The many options presented for our mode of transportation represent the methodology of our instruction. Like choosing a path to get to a destination, the choice you make in how you are going to get there is deeply affected by the same obstacles and opportunities. The pressures of time and content often leave teachers feeling like they must find the most efficient and expedient methods of instruction. However, teachers may choose to pilot their instruction based on the demands and requests of their travelers.
As I mentioned, maps are interpretive; where you come from always influences how you decipher the map.
This leaves me at my personal cross-road. I take comfort in Franklin Bobbit’s enduring influence on the establishment of defined learning goals within our curriculum. Yet, as a reflective and caring teacher I embrace the curiosity and needs of my students and use that to shape the course of our class. While I believe this is essential for establishing and reaching goals and outcomes, I still find a need to balance the individual and societal demands when shaping and creating curriculum.
As for the what versus how debate presented by Kieran Egan in his article What is Curriculum I am left with a bigger question which I must continue to explore – how much should methodology really be placed within curriculum? As I illustrated in my metaphor, the methodology of instruction is so connected to the dynamic and fluid contexts which we teach in. I find it hard to prescribe instructional methods when the choices we have to make can change daily.

I must admit, I am intrigued by all these questions and the path I’m on in connecting the past and looking towards the future. It has built upon a journey that began for myself and my colleagues this year as we put aside the who and the what and how and asked ourselves – why? But, that story is for another day.

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