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Dear board of Missoula County Public Schools: 

I understand that the MCPS Teaching and Learning Department is proposing a new mandatory curriculum which would replace 60-80 percent of what is taught in MCPS English language arts classes from grades 6-12. l think that would be a big mistake for several reasons.

If you believe that teachers are trained professionals whose creativity and judgment are vital to the atmosphere of the classroom and to student learning, then "canned" curricula ought to be specifically and energetically avoided. To adopt these prepared curricula is the surest way to tell teachers that they have fallen short of expectations, that their judgment is faulty and that their professionalism is not valued. It is the surest and quickest way to turn professional teachers into functionary technicians who simply implement the wishes rained down on them from "on high." If you wish to destroy what morale remains in the classroom, destroy the honor of professional pride, this plan is a good way to do that.

I believe that teaching is the noblest of professions, whose demands are almost too difficult to meet for the most energetic and invested practitioner; the teacher who believes that the administration is there to support and assist the teacher. Canned curricula send the specific message that administrators are more interested in stamping out ”one size fits all" student experiences, and that any “teacher” who is in place can function fine in the sterile world of top-down planning. This is the definition of "The Factory Model of Education." This plan removes the "heart" of teaching, and frankly, is the teaching equivalent of saying that poetry by committee or artistic renderings by governmental fiat will produce as excellent a product as an insightful, professional, caring teacher. I think this is ridiculous.

I believe that students who are deprived of the best efforts of their teachers are forever shortchanged, and believe their lives are poorer for it.

Now, if you want well-designed curricular modules created by MCPS teachers, working in concert with each other, pooling their professional judgment and taking advantage of their experience, then you must allow time and money for that development. Otherwise, allow and encourage them to teach the way and the curricula that they have developed over many years, and ask them how you can assist them in implementing what they know to be superior teaching. Listen to them, then act on what they tell you!

Dan Sieckman is a retired Missoula County Public Schools English teacher.

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