Sunday, June 04, 2006

What do you think?

Every year, I hear a student teacher, or first year teacher, talk about "copyrighting" a lesson plans or unit. I'm thinking about it now as I procrastinate (not getting my papers graded) in this unbelievable heat.

For me, I have been saved many times by other teachers "lending" or "sharing" their work with me. The Internet particularly has been a boon those times I needed help writing a test for a novel I'm teaching, or when I've been fresh out of ideas for teaching prepositions. As a new teacher, I remember the struggle I went through, creating almost everything from scratch. It was fun, sort of. I mean, I love the creation part of teaching, but it is exhausting.

If someone has a fabulous idea, and I know about it, it's much easier for me to see their plans, than have to try and recreate it all on my own. I've gone down that road. A teacher at our school taught Socratic Seminar. She learned about it from a presentation at the CATE conference a few years ago (California Association of Teachers of English). She talked about it in our department meeting, said it was really a great thing to do in the classroom, and yet would not give up her notes or worksheets or any other paperwork. I bugged her about it for a year, not realizing she wasn't going to help me out. I figured she was just busy and didn't have time to go looking for things for me.

Finally, I did a bit of research myself, mostly on line, and just jumped in with my classes. It was a rough start, but we figured it out rather quickly. Now they are a permanent fixture in my classroom.

This could have been so much easier if Ms. I-will-deign-to-give-you-my-attention had just shared what she had learned with me.

Another situation. I teach eighth grade. Poetry forms are a specific eighth grade standard in California. Memorizing a poem or speech is another one. I've always been known as a poetry lover at my school, and I always have a great time during that unit. I've poured myself into it.

Well, a seventh grade teacher at our school loves poetry too. Her seventh grade students quite often end up being my eighth grade students. Since she loves poetry, even though it's not specifically in the seventh grade standards, she teaches a rather large unit in it as well.

So far so good. But.

What she has done again and again, is teach almost the exact same poetic types, along with the same examples, and the same "poetry coffee shop" recitation that I've done (did I mention that she was a pre-professional in my classroom several years ago?).

I've tried talking to her; it's not like there are only 20 poems out there, but she puts me off every time. "You know, Ms. JHSTeacher, it's okay for students to do something more than once."

I know that, but does she have to do almost the same unit as I do? Every year, I keep throwing out poetic forms, because I know she's already taught the students, using almost the same lessons as I do. I no longer teach Ode, or Random Autobiography, or color sensory (one in which a color represents all five senses) because of her lessons.

This year, I was helping out a seventh grade student in my tutorial class. She has this teacher. As I was looking over her shoulder, I saw on her worksheet a very familiar poem.

Wait a minute. I wrote that poem!

Was there any kind of acknowledgement that I had written it? No. Was it a poem I had written to specifically teach a type of poem? Yes. Was it one that I had asked her not to teach? Yes.

And so, confrontation again. Now, I must say, this teacher is a friend of mine on the "outside" so our confrontation is very polite.

She won't back down. Apologized for not giving me credit (which isn't my point anyway) but kept up with her party line of "well, we don't teach students how to write an essay just once, do we?"

No, but we do hopefully, use different avenues to teach it. What this teacher is not understanding is that when she uses my worksheets, my units in her class, it's new and fresh for the kids. When they get to me, they whine and moan about doing "the same thing again" and try to recycle the poetry they wrote the year before.

How do we go about differentiating between ripping off another teacher's lessons, and sharing our expertise? I know I've used things almost word-for-word I've found on-line or which other teachers have given me. I'm also quite perturbed right now about my poetry unit.

Where do you draw the line? Should there be a line? What do you think of this "copyrighting" idea? Do you share? How do you share? Have you ever felt your lesson was "ripped off" or "hijacked" by another teacher? How did you deal with it?


Student Teacher said...

I am starting my B.Ed program in September, but for the last two years I worked as an ESL teacher. I created a binder in the school office called "Jane-Approved Activities and Lesson Plans". I would try out new things in my classes and then stick a little note on them indicating at which point in the curriculum I used the activity, how it worked, if I made any changes, etc. Then I stuck it in the binder to share with the other teachers. I guess it depends on your motivation for becoming a teacher: personal glory or educating young people?

That being said, any time a teacher uses a poem, story, article, painting or other "work of art" in class, the artist should be credited.

happychyck said...

I used to work in a rural school and had nobody to turn to in my early years of teaching. Thank goodness I the Internet has been a great tool for teaching ideas. (Ideas--other people's complete lessons never quite work for me.) When I moved to an urban school, I was so excited to have collaboration with live people. My frustration has not been as bad as yours, but I am selfish with sharing things with other grade levels because then I'm stuck having to come up with new ideas when the ones I had were pretty good. There ARE some things the students don't have to get year after year.

Many of the teachers at my school freely give ideas and lesson plans, but I don't use them if they teach a different grade for the above reason. I do file them away because you just never know...

I don't mind sharing with people on my grade level, though. Even with that, we tend to take each others ideas and tweak them. I sometimes feel guilty because I have more years of experience that the other teachers at my grade level, but they are just so darn creative! If asked, though, I'd totally give credit to whichever teacher gave me the idea--or if more specifically, the lesson plan.

I am not sure what I'd do if I were in your shoes. I doubt I'd give my lessons. I might offer other great ideas I'd seen, though.

Michael McVey said...

If you could just get her to put YOUR name on the poem or at least acknowledge that creative teacher down the hall, it would be a victory for you. I have been a teacher since 1980 and have met the kind of teacher you describe. In fact, several faces rise up to meet me. If only we could just teach.

dan said...

I am a strong proponent of sharing curricular materials. I have heard stories of teachers hoarding their lessons and refusing to share. That seems counterproductive to what we are trying to do.

I always share all of my curriculum with any new world history teacher at my school, or even those I meet at other schools. Our goals are the same - teach kids.

However, there needs to be a line. Credit should be given, or at least, credit should not be taken. (At the very least your name should have been on that poem). It is too bad the other teacher does not recognize that as the author you should have priority.

There is a little overlap between 10th grade world history and 11th grade US history. Several years back we discovered a number of U.S. teachers were doing activities we did in world history. We looked at the standards and compromised.

It is too bad this person isn't budging, but please don't let that stop you from sharing in the future! Just be open with your expectations from here on out.

JHS Teacher said...

"I guess it depends on your motivation for becoming a teacher: personal glory or educating young people?"

I don't think it's that simple, which is why I'm having trouble with this.

I love sharing and collaborating with other teachers. I like Happychycks idea of sharing with grade level teachers.

And, I'm not talking about neat activities that can be done across grade levels or subjects (such as the Socratic Seminar). Those should be shared, and I'm always thrilled when we do share those kinds of ideas.

What's got me in such a tizzy is not that she used my poem (it's not that great anyway), but that she's taken something I teach in eighth grade almost word-for-word and is teaching it to her seventh graders.

Seventh graders which I will have next year.

I'm torn.

JHS Teacher said...

That should read "seventh graders whom I will have next year."

OKP said...

I would not be half the teacher I am today without the help of other teachers and their materials. Having had materials co-opted without receiving acknowledgement or credit, I know this frustrating feeling. (Something like this actually just happened today.)

If it were I: this is an opportunity (not one I would have signed up for, but one that's here) to revivify my curriculum. I'd surrender those lessons to her, making sure that any other seventh grade teachers integrated it into their curriculum -- thereby making it an assignment that has the potential to be a benchmark and eliminating the some-kids-did-this-last-year-and-some-did-not issue. I'd make it clear, however, that there needs to be some differences in the poetry units taught in each grade. It's a healthier curriculum that way. I might use the standards to separate what's taught at each grade level. I would weigh how important this issue is for me before discussing it with my department chair.

I'd take the opportunity to renew, revamp, and recreate a different, streamlined poetry unit. Perhaps try a poetry slam, rather than a coffee house presentation. Or a Really Bad Poetry contest that uses all the figures of speech we learn in the worst possible ways.

I digress.

I'd put my name on everything. Perhaps this in the header: "(Last Name): Use only with permission or acknowledgement." I'd make certain when I share information that all the people involved know that I respect them as professionals and expect that same respect from them. If something comes up, I'll mention it.

Sharing is good, in my opinion. Stealing is not.

-llm. said...

I like what others have to say on this issue. I work in a very collaborative environment where ideas are shared freely. I am a new teacher this year and would not have survived without the ideas that other teachers have shared with me.

One example. We teach Island of the Blue Dolphins as a unit in our Reading Program. A former teacher, now retired, put together an entire unit on it. She did a fantastic job on it, bound it, and shared it with the other 4th grade teachers. They, in turn, shared it with me. Thank goodness!

If a 3rd grade teacher at our school were to take these materials and teach this book, I'd flip. It's not even my materials but she would have just gutted a huge chunk of the 4th grade year. Definitely not okay.

Teachers work hard to create their lessons and units. It is a HUGE amount of work. Teachers would not survive without borrowing and sharing. The line may be blurry, but the teacher in question crossed that line and should change her plans. They aren't to the standards anyway -- teach poetry, by all means, but don't teach 8th grade in 7th grade. Teach 7th grade!

Anyway, enough rambling.

ephraim said...

This was quite a story! As I was reading through the comments I've been asking myself what I'd do in your situation, but I'm still not quite sure. I'm a little dismayed (read: quite disturbed!) by the attitude of your colleague, but I definitely agree with commenter okp on this one. This is a challenge to reinvent your Poetry Unit.

Take what you've learned over the past few years of using it and figure out how to take it to the next level. Imagine that you're a ninth grade teacher who, ideally, would have had your students after they'd learned the original unit in your own class. What would the next steps be? It's a neat opportunity, in a way.

In the immediacy of what's happened it's never good to be ambushed by a lack of student excitement, and I sympathize. I tend to strive to be somewhat transparent as a professional for my students, so I would almost want to explain the situation to them but I can see this route quickly getting muddy.

I've run into a similar dilemma of sorts this year at my own school. As a new teacher I've been experimenting with blogs and bulletin board software (for online writer's workshops) in my classroom. I've met with some amazing successes - with the necessary lion's share of lessons learned, of course - and my first instinct was to share these tools with other teachers at the school.

In the end the colleague who was most excited about implementing these tools was a 7th grade humanities teacher. I was happy to share, but it quickly dawned on me that I would likely have half of her students the following year. I was afraid that much of the success may have been due to the novelty of online publishing for my students. I had never seen them as eager to write or share as they were on their blogs and the online writer's workshop. It was a beautiful thing. Was I shooting myself in the foot by training other teachers to use these tools?

In the end I took it as a challenge to keep my content fresh and provocative. It's not about the tools. It was never about the tools. They're just vehicles to drive ideas and community.

Thanks for sharing.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Umm, you deal with it by ASKING PERMISSION.

There was a person in my neighborhood who walked her two Great Danes every day. Every day they both took elephant-sized dumps in my yard. This woman apparently planned it that way. I asked her politely to clean up after her dogs, but she just shrugged and said, "How am I supposed to carry around dog doo the size of that?"

Oh okay, that's fine, I thought. And I got out my snowshovel that night and returned her little "presents" to her driveway. No more poop presents were left upon my yard, especially when I put a little sign next to the returned piles that said, "And I have THREE large dogs..."

This person is pooping on your yard. The east she could do, since you have brought it up, is to use her own poetic forms, especially since it is not part of her curriculum.

Even though I am considered an old fossil by some of the youngsters with whom I teach, I am always amused when I see copies of my own special activities being used in other classes. Apparently some of my colleagues haunt the copy-machine room and purloin a copy of whatever they see that strikes their fancy (I always wondered why I kept being 4-8 copies short by 7th period). Many oof them just white my name out at the top, and away they go. At least one of them had the grace to simply handwrite to the left of my name "Stolen by Mr. W from..."

I am the most generous person in the world, as long as you ask, and as long as you don't steal my copies. I believe teaching is all about sharing, and II have always been so grateful to those who have shared with me.

Spangles said...

Sharing with others can be tricky. I will gladly share organizers and visual tools. I'm more reluctant to share materials related to texts or materials with my non-4th grade colleagues. I still often do because I have so many materials available and our school has outrageous student turnover. But it does make me wary for the reasons that you noted.

When I taught in Baltimore, I got tired of working my tail off and not having veteran teachers throw me a bone. I started putting my name on the materials that I developed. They started whiting it out before they made their own copies. I gave it up, mostly because I knew that the good materials that I spent hours working on were helping all of the 2nd graders. It seemed selfish, to me, to keep that from other students just because they had the misfortune of being in Mrs. C's class.

It's a sticky issue. I hate that you acted like a professional -- calmly discussing an issue with good reasons -- and didn't get a professional response.

Marty said...

Why not just chalk it up as a lost cause and create new a new unit? Seems simpler than fighting the seventh grade teacher at every turn.

sexy said...