Why “units” are bad

A teacher asked me earlier this year if I had a copy of a lesson I gave the year before.  I’m always happy to share any of my resources with other people.  The problem was that she couldn’t remember exactly what the lesson was.  She remembered that I had taught it during a certain unit, so she wondered if she could just look through my file on that unit.

I informed her that I don’t keep such things.  I don’t have a Romeo and Juliet file or a Short Story Unit file.  To me, these are the things that get teachers into ruts.  Once you start pulling out “The File” you stop thinking about what you should be teaching, or how things have changed.  Instead, you cling to that manilla folder and all of its contents and try to teach it the same way that you always have.  This, to me, is the classic sign of a teacher going bad…or already there.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do keep lessons that I have developed.  But each is a distinct item that I use for specific purposes.  If, while teaching Romeo and Juliet, I feel the need to discuss character foils, I pull out my lesson and we go with it.  But, since it isn’t part of an official “unit” I might not use that lesson at all.  It depends upon what the students need.

Is this method a lot more work?  You bet it is.  I’m constantly creating new notes, handouts, worksheets, etc… instead of recycling the ones I made last year.  But, it keeps me fresh, and keeps me focused on teaching what is important.  Not doing what’s been done before.



  1. Scott Erb said,

    September 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

    I have lecture notes, power point presentations, and update those every time I teach. I rarely use the same texts since I teach international relations and a text from 2007 is already obsolete! Some core things remain the same, but it’s always adjusted. I think again higher education is easier in many ways — we’re free as to what we cover, how we cover it, what to base grades upon (only a few of us use ‘rubrics,’ which I believe are ubiquitous at the K-12 level). And I’m sure some people still recycle the same classes over and over…but in the world of international politics, it’s a struggle to keep up with changing events!

  2. renaissanceguy said,

    September 28, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I am like you. I will look through material that I have used before, but I hate teaching the same thing in the same way more than once.

    Like you, I try to tailor my teaching to student needs and interests, which vary.

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