I spent about an hour back in my classroom today because my students were having a goodbye party for the substitute teacher. This woman is absolutely amazing. She taught for many years - a variety of subjects and ages - and was a principal. She is retired but still teaches for our intersessions and does some long term substituting. She substituted for me on my first maternity leave and I was thrilled that she agreed to do so again.
When we spoke today she was very apologetic because she felt they had not gotten through enough of the science unit that I had planned for them. This gave me pause for three reasons. The first was simply that I did not want her to be concerned about it. I know that my students' time was well spent while she was with them. Secondly, it pains me a little to think that we have to "cover" information. This does not suggest real learning to me. The unit she was teaching was on light and sound. They have done all of the lessons on light. My feeling is that if they have a deep understanding of the concepts surounding light then they have done well in science. If they had managed to get through all of the lessons but did not really understand the concepts, then the entire quarter would have been wasted. Last of all, she felt they had not accomplished as much as she had hoped because there were so many interruptions to their instructional time.
All teachers struggle with this. I think it probably becomes a bigger and bigger issue as the students get older. The interruptions they faced in the last two weeks were a school math tournament, an assembly, patrol meetings, and a school-wide writing celebration (and of course the mercury fiasco). All of these are worthy ventures. This was simply another example for me of the balance teachers and schools walk in their attempts to teach children all of the ideas, concepts, and information we have deemed necessary, and build life skills, and expand their horizons. Schools have so many more responsibilities to our children than most people realize. I think we are trying to be everything to everyone, and ultimately that is not possible. Individual schools and society at large must consider the expectations and be prepared to make adjustments as needed.