When the shit hits the fan.
Let’s face it. Lesson planning takes time, effort, attention to detail, and long hours of thinking about all the ways it could blow up in your face. That being said, even the most fastidious, dedicated and detailed oriented person can not think of everything. Any experienced teacher will tell you that they have had that dreaded moment in class when the lesson you spent so much time and effort on falls flat on its face. It’s a sinking feeling partly because you spent the past three days getting materials together, writing up activity directions, and even thinking of possible questions that students might ask. You get are knee deep into the lesson and look out over your class and see:
- Kids are looking at you with that deer in headlights look.
- The aide in the room also has that same look on his/her face.
- You are starting to sweat, incredulous that your explicit directions are causing so much terror and anguish.
- Usually this only seems to happen when you are being observed by an administrator who is pleasantly smiling all the while writing down copious notes in a binder.
ARGH! This has happened to me more than once in my career. My response to it has varied as I have grown as an educator but I have also seen and witnessed many ways other teachers have dealt with this awful situation.
The Rookie: The Rookie is full of vim and vinegar. Enthusiastic, confident, and sure that their unique approach to teaching will change the world. They just forgot to write them down on the board… When the lesson goes south, The Rookie keep barrelling forward with the lesson at full steam, sure that their kids will pick up on what going on if they just follow with me until the end. (Yes this was me, and yes this happened while I was getting observed). There is often little recognition of the reality that the students are facing with comprehending the lesson and following through on the plan. Often it is because of a dearth of explanation on the front end, a lack of Q+A before students start work, or poorly defined objectives.
The Veteran: The Veteran clearly sees that something is going wrong and stops the lesson right in its track to shift gears to the back up plan which is usually something (but not always) related to the original lesson. Clearly The Veteran has planned accordingly for that ‘just in case’ moment. The only thing that the Veteran is lacking is something that only comes from years of experience with facilitating the classroom dynamic which leads us to…
The Guru: The Guru might have a back-up lesson in case it goes south, or at least she had one a few years ago. She doesn’t actually use those back-up plans anymore because now these busted moments in time are better used to discuss process. The Guru loves to take the moment of failure and turn it into a conversation about why the failure happened. She asks lots of questions of the students and in turns allows students to ask question to each other and to her as well. This feedback becomes the genesis of a new student driven lesson that will begin on the following day. What the Guru has realized is that the content is usually irrelevant, it is the process that drives the learning. Creating moments of honest discussion and student led feedback creates a more invested classroom that wants to take part in their own education.
I’ve seen first year teachers that are already gurus and I’ve seen veteran teachers that are still rookies. I have been all of these teachers are some point over the years and will sometimes fall into being a Rookie for a day. As an educator I embrace my mistakes and look forward to the opportunity to talk about them with my students.