I hope that if and when I become an actual teacher, I will have at least some small bit of say in what materials I use in class. If I'm required to use approved materials, I hope I'll be allowed to supplement them with materials I choose.
The worksheets and workbooks and overhead transparencies and other pre-packaged lessons that I've been asked to teach from during my few days of subbing bring back all the feelings I had about these materials back when I was in school. They are either deadly boring or completely opaque, with very little in between. Oh yeah, and also infuriating because they're riddled with typos, mistakes, and unacknowledged ambiguities. That nagging feeling: does this not make sense because I'm not getting it, or is it because the book is wrong?
Yesterday's lesson plan for 6th grade ESL English included a 9-part phonics lesson on prefixes and diphthongs. I had 6 classes. When I would find a typo or mistake or something that didn't make sense to me, I would skip that part of the lesson with the next class. By the end of the day, I was only teaching 3 of the parts.
The bright kids look at this stuff and think, "I know what you're talking about, but why are you putting it in such abstruse terms?" (Okay, sixth-graders are not thinking "abstruse" but you know what I mean.) And the kids who are struggling with a concept or idea are pushed even further into the weeds.
Then I had to wade through a short reading selection about stress. Apparently, people of all cultures experience stress, and there's good and bad stress. Excuse me, where is the teacher's bathroom? And do you have a razor blade I can borrow for a couple minutes? Assuming 6th graders need to learn about stress -- and I'm sure someone with better credentials than I had good reasons for deciding that they do -- with all the great literature written in English at your disposal, you couldn't find an interesting, well-written passage about stress for a reading comprehension exercise for 6th graders?
Why are kids not learning? Take a look at the pedagogical materials.
(By the way, crappy workbooks aside, I had a great day yesterday with some very smart and fun middle school kids. It was the first time since subbing that I felt like I could see some way into it. I could see myself teaching. The first part of the lesson was vocabulary. We discussed the spelling and definition of 10 words, we put them in sentences, came up with examples of how they're used. It was kind of a heady experience witnessing kids' faces suddenly illuminated by the meaning of a word or the recognition of a concept. After the discussion, I gave them a spelling quiz on the 10 words, and almost all the kids in every class spelled all or most of the words correctly. Seriously, I was close to tears.)