A REPORTER asked an experienced teacher in Public School 198 in Manhattan how she managed to do so many unusual things to get an enthusiastic response from her pupils. She replied that, well, she just wasn't a ''lesson plan kind of teacher.'' When a subsequent editorial in The New York Times suggested that lesson plans were an obsolete requirement that ''kills spontaneity,'' it drew a flood of letters from angry school administrators. They asserted that an attack on lesson plans was tantamount to an attack on sound educational management. That was in 1971.
In education, old issues never die; they only fade away, to reemerge unchanged at some later date. The lesson plan is an illustration of such entrenched patterns. When Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, questioned the value of lesson plans earlier this month, Ted Elsberg, president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, asked, ''Who among us is so secure, so confident, so expert in whatever position we hold that we need not plan?''
Mr. Shanker had asked, ''Does Pavarotti have to file an aria plan?'' Mr. Elsberg replied: ''Of course. There is a libretto and a score to be followed, and there are hours and hours of daily practice under the careful observation and guidance of the director.''
Typically, a lesson plan demands that the teacher describe in advance, for submission to supervisors, the ''aim'' of each lesson and the specific procedure by which the ''conclusion'' of that lesson is to be reached. Why does so innocent-seeming a procedure continue to excite such controversy?
Those who uphold the concept argue that it is essential to insure that teachers prepare properly for each lesson, that they clarify in their own minds what they want to achieve and how to go about it, and that they keep the process efficient and to the point. They compare it, as did Mr. Elsberg, to the need for lawyers to prepare a brief or engineers to draw blueprints.
Those like Mr. Shanker who oppose standard lesson plans concede that every practitioner must plan, but that the requirement to set it all down on paper for supervisors to check turns teaching into a dull routine and makes teachers feel that Big Brother is always looking over their shoulders.
Many observers believe the issue actually cuts much deeper, to the very heart of the relationship between teachers and supervisors. They object to the fact that teachers have traditionally been viewed as interchangeable parts within the school system, rather than as professional people with individual differences and special strengths and weaknesses.
For example, procedures that may be proper or even necessary for inexperienced new teachers, including the requirement that they show on paper just how they intend to approach a specific lesson, may actually get in the way of experienced teachers. Such teachers find it offensive to be told that preparation of a standard lesson plan is the only way to get them to plan their lessons. Good administrators restrain their impulses to impose their own plans on the teachers, but a serious risk of unwarranted domination cannot be ignored in so hierarchic an enterprise as a school system.
The danger, in the words of the historian David Tyack, is that the lesson plan will stand as a symbol of the administrators' continuing search for ''the one best way'' of organizing schools. To those who look for better education through creativity and flexibility, ''the one best way'' is anathema. They consider even the merely competent practioners capable of spontaneity if they are not too rigidly hemmed in.
What may be more important is that the lesson plan reflects a particular view of the teacher's place in the system. While new teachers may get too little supervision and guidance, experienced teachers get too much.
Because virtually all supervisors are former teachers, why do many of them appear insensitive to the way teachers would like to be treated? The cause may be the ''Peter Principle,'' as characterized by Laurence J. Peter in his book by that name. The ''principle,'' according to Mr. Peter, is that people tend to rise to the ''level of their incompetence.'' He cited as an example the outstanding nursery school teacher who, after being promoted to supervisor of nursery school teachers, talks to and treats them as if they were 3-year-olds.
Similarly, many principals deal with their teachers in weekly staff meetings as if they were addressing a group of students. They talk at them, not with them. They aim for easy administrative controls, and that may be one reason why they so readily rise to defend the lesson plan.
School administrators, as conservative insiders, are not alone in treating teachers as cards in a system. Liberal school reformers are just as often guilty of the same offense. For example, the reformers of the 1950's and 1960's used to speak of their search for ''teacherproof'' teaching materials such as books and films. Understandably, teachers were as offended by the term as doctors might be if they were given instruments labeled ''doctor-proof'' by their inventors.
There's little disagreement among experts that a good school tries to treat every pupil as an individual. Critics of the present system doubt whether that goal can be attained unless teachers, too, are treated, and respected, as individuals, provided they do their jobs effectively. They worry about the effect on teacher ingenuity and self-confidence if administrators continue to see the lesson plan as an indispensable contract to guarantee effective teaching.