The Busted Lesson

What is real reading?

When the proverbial $#*t 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 educator can not, and will not, think of everything. An experienced teacher will tell you that they have had that dreaded moment in class when the lesson they 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 elbows-deep into the lesson, thinking everything is going swimmingly, and look out over your class only to see see:

  • Kids are looking at you with that deer in headlights, panicked look on their faces.
  • The aide in the room also has that same look on his/her face.
  • You are starting to sweat (and you seem to have forgotten to wear anti-perspirant for some strange reason today…).
  • You are a little incredulous that your explicit directions are causing so much terror and anguish.
  • Usually this only seems to happen when you are being observed by the toughest administrator in the district who is pleasantly smiling all the while writing down copious notes in a binder.


This exact moment has happened to me more than once in my career. The first time it happened I was fortunate to get some serious tough love from that incredibly tough administrator. She turned the worst moment in my young teaching career into a moment that I reflect on a revisit in my mind every year. Teachers often go through the following phases of experience when facing the busted lesson.

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 keeps barreling forward with the lesson at full steam, sure of themselves and that their kids will pick up on what is going on if they just follow along until the end. (Yes this was me, and yes this happened while I was getting observed by that tough administrator…). 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. There are a multitude of ways The Rookie misses the point of the lesson and what the objectives for learning are. If the teacher can’t define the objectives clearly, how can the students buy into the process?

The Veteran: The Veteran clearly sees that something is going wrong and stops the lesson right in its track to shift gears with the back up plan. The back up plan is usually something (but not always) related to the original lesson and but will meet a district or state standard and keep students moving forward. Clearly The Veteran has planned accordingly for that ‘just in case’ moment. The only thing that the Veteran is lacking here 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.


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