What’s My Job?

In the first chapter entitled, “What’s My Job? Defining the Role of the Classroom Teacher,” Grant Wiggins (2010) focuses on eliminating “the glaring absence of true accountability in education” (p. 7). He asks the all-important question: “What’s my Job?” In other words, what are the key goals and desired outcomes of my teaching? Although this seems to be obvious, Wiggins (2010) explains that these key goals and desired outcomes are rarely communicated by hiring institutions in job descriptions (pp. 8-9). He compares and contrasts a job description from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development with the usual job description given most educators in order to illustrate that most education job descriptions focus on the immediate instead of long-term desired outcomes (Wiggins, 2010, pp. 10-11). Although I understand how many schools could be like this, I must say from my personal experience of teaching in a private, Christian school that the desired outcomes and goals were not only communicated to me, but the curriculum for my classes was highly based on these goals. The nature of the Christian Worldview class I taught necessitated this because the goals were clearly outlined in our school’s mission and vision statements. Because of this, my experience stands in stark contrast to the disconnect between school purpose and teacher practice that Wiggins (2010) describes throughout the chapter.

Wiggins (2010) later describes what he believes will span the gap between goals and teaching. He outlines the key goals of every teacher:  “Causing successful learning,” “Causing greater interest,” and “Causing greater confidence” (Wiggins, 2010, p. 11). In order to determine what type of learning is successful, Wiggins (2010) believes we must derive our course lessons and testing from our course goals (p. 12). This results-based teaching focuses less on covering topics and more on helping learners succeed in life. Wiggins (2010) later suggests that this must therefore influence which chapters of a textbook teachers stress, which they skim, and which they omit from their course lessons based on the overall course goals (p. 20). I think this point is highly important because textbooks should not guide our lesson plans as much as our students do. In his description of how to cause confidence in students, Wiggins (2010) asks how many teachers are taking an inventory of their class before designing their lesson plans (pp. 14-15). Although the teaching calendar makes this difficult, I would love to see schools allow for less assignments at the beginning of the school year in order to establish rapport and design lessons around the class. I have to admit that I have sometimes tried to fit my junior high classes into my lessons instead of considering how to adapt the lesson to their learning styles.

Later in the chapter, Wiggins (2010) describes shaping lessons to class goals by stating, “If transfer is the goal, then spending the most time in class lecturing is inappropriate; if meaning making is the goal, then instructional strategies have to involve students” engaging in more than just listening (p. 26). What a breath of fresh air! I believe that if more teachers heard this type of thing early on, their lessons, their student’s test scores and even their overall happiness would reflect the freedom of this statement. Because the goals of my classes were communicated so clearly to me, it was easy to design curriculum with students in mind, and it was easy to design tasks that engaged learners in ways that would impact them more than simply lecturing for an hour. After reading this chapter, I have a clearer understanding of the job of teaching and what that means for the way I will approach each aspect of my job as an educator.

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5 thoughts on “What’s My Job?

  1. Hi Joanna,
    You write, “Because the goals of my classes were communicated so clearly to me, it was easy to design curriculum with students in mind, and it was easy to design tasks that engaged learners in ways that would impact them more than simply lecturing for an hour.” This is making me think about a couple of experiences as a paraeducator leading pull-out sessions, some of which involved as many as ten students, often without clear goals of any kind. Guess what? They were not altogether successful. We had some good learning here and there, but students seemed as bewildered as I did at times, and I shudder to think of the wasted opportunities.

    I like the way you are presenting Wiggins’ chapter, and I appreciate your comment that, “textbooks should not guide our lesson plans as much as our students do.” I know for myself I need to strike a balance between methods and content I gravitate toward, which errs on the side of that which works best for me as a mature student, and something in a textbook that might be valid. Yet I yearn to let students lead in the learning as much as possible. Thanks for this post!

  2. Wiggins’ concept of getting to know your students before designing lesson plans really hit home for me as well. This idea seems so obvious but so revolutionary at the same time. I feel like I had a great education but I honestly doubt that I had a single class prior to college that approached lesson planning in this way. I believe that this idea can be found in special education but not in general education, which is unfortunate. Most of my pre-collegiate experiences were simply reading a textbook chapter to chapter from the beginning to the end. I appreciate Wiggins’ perspective that a textbook is more like a reference such as an encyclopedia where information is organized but doesn’t necessarily need to be read straight through. By taking a little time to decide what chapters of a textbook are relevant to your goals for the class and which aren’t, students will end up getting far more out of the experience.

  3. Joanna, I appreciate your use of language when you quote from Wiggins, “instructional strategies must involve the students” and state that this is a sense of freedom. That is so true. The classroom needs to be a place where students interact, experience, reflect, and learn. As a teacher, I need to consider the fact that this classroom may be the only place that a student is able to express himself in a way that is his own, and if it accelerates his learning I want that to be done in my classroom. Specifically in Special Education, a student needs to have the opportunity to learn in their own manner, as long as they are learning.

  4. Thanks for the post. You finish your thoughts here by claiming to have a better understanding of the ‘job’ of teaching. How would you succinctly answer the question that Wiggins poses in the title?

  5. Pingback: Reflective Response: What’s My Job? | joannakharmon

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