Well, no, that’s not quite what your prac teacher told you. She told you that she didn’t expect to see your lesson plans written down (and more fool her).

I overheard a conversation in our School of Education hallway the other day between two secondary pre-service teachers who were waiting for class. I didn’t know either of them so I decided not to interrupt, but it’s at least prompting me to write this blog post about why we ask you to record your lesson plans at university, and why you (probably) won’t do this after your first few months of teaching.

We ask you to record your lesson plans at university because we want you to know how a lesson should be structured, how to frame objectives and ensure they’re met by the lesson plan, how to plan for student movement, behaviour, and safety (particularly in science and technology lessons, and let’s face it, a pencil can be a weapon in itself, so pretty much any lesson), and how to make best use of resources and consider the resources you’ll need. It’s also an exercise in interpreting and packaging the curriculum. Lesson planning also helps you to consider the context in which the lesson takes place, including timing, duration, position between and around other lessons within the unit, class dynamics, prior learning, future learning, and classroom (physical) contexts. We ask you to write many different lessons so that you become accustomed to thinking through all of these aspects of planning a lesson. A poorly-planned lesson may as well not have been planned at all; time spent in this lesson amounts to educational waste for both you and your students.

Once you’ve practiced a few times, you might become better at planning lessons, moving from a novice to an “advanced beginner” (Berliner, 1994). To progress, you need to be accepting feedback about your lesson planning (and delivery, if possible, probably during practicum experience – that is, if you’ve been encouraged to lesson plan in the first place), and reflecting on this feedback and your own thoughts, feelings and experiences during the lesson planning process and delivery of the lesson. Lesson planning is quite a complicated act and the more competent you are at it when you begin your teaching career, the better off your students will be and the less stressed you’ll be in your first few years of teaching, when you’ll be learning so much about the craft and skills of teaching, more than we can teach you at university.

It is unlikely that you’ll have the time to thoroughly plan your lessons when you begin your teaching career. Between building up your resources, making friends with the cleaner, tuckshop people, and especially the administrators of your school, and generating a professional relationship with your teaching team (be it science staffroom or the other Year 5 teachers), getting to know your students, planning/interpreting units of work and assessment, delivering pastoral care, paperwork, marking, paperwork, marking, paperwork and marking, you won’t have time to plan every single lesson you are going to teach, especially if you’re a primary teacher with 23 hours contact with the same set of students each week. So it’s more than useful to know how to lesson plan in your head and carry out your plans effectively; it’s necessary and essential. You might still write a lesson plan for those sessions that you’re doing something novel, or where you don’t know the content knowledge and skills well (yes, you need to know the content; no, it’s not good enough to “learn with your students”), but you will not write a lesson plan for most of the things you teach.

I’d suggest that even if your prac teacher tells you not to share your lesson plans with her, write them down anyway. You will enter the classroom more confidently, you will be better prepared for diversions from the lesson plan (because you’ll be able to move back on to the plan), and you’ll improve your competence at one of the most essential skills for teaching.