We all know it’s important to come to school with our lesson plans prepared—especially for a beginning teacher. But lessons that look great on paper can still play out horribly in the classroom. Here are some of the more common reasons good lessons go bad:
1. Kids don’t have the background knowledge you thought they did.
You introduce your Black History Month essay topic: “Has Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for America come true?” You get nothing but blank stares. You ask what the kids know about Dr. King and the answers include “He was president” and “He freed the slaves.” The good news is you know what you’ll be teaching today. The bad news is everything else.
2. A “teachable moment” gets you off track and off schedule.
Some of your best lessons will come from moments that let you push your plans aside and discuss something that fascinates students. Use these moments to your advantage. Just be careful not to turn every teachable moment into a “teachable day” or a “let-me-tell-you-my-life-story” moment. When the kids start looking bored, the moment has probably passed. Keep in mind that teachable moments still involve topics that don’t reveal too much of your personal life. Questions such as “How was your weekend?” are not questions that lead to teachable moments. Also keep in mind that much depends on context. Questions such as “Is oral sex really sex?” may lead to a valuable teachable moment if you are teaching health or human anatomy, but probably not if you are teaching advanced calculus.
3. Your kids already did your fraction-pizza lesson with their last teacher. Now what?
It seemed original while you were cutting out circles of colored foam, gluing them together, tracking down enough scissors for 27 tiny hands, and writing directions on the board in advance. Then your little angels come in and say, “Man, we’re doing fraction pizzas again?” Guess what, kids? This is review!
4. You explained the directions, but the kids have no idea what you’re talking about.
Over time, you will learn to give clearer directions and break things into smaller steps than you originally think you need to. The first time you run into this problem, though, you have two choices: backtrack and walk students through every step, or simplify the assignment. If you backtrack, you’ll probably spend longer on the activity than you planned. Simplifying cuts your losses, but the kids may not get everything you wanted out of the activity. Either way, you get a lesson in thinking on your feet. Hey, at least someone’s learning.
5. The projector breaks, the copies aren’t made, or you can’t find the workbooks.
It’s always a good idea to double-check your materials and have extra supplies on hand, but no one needs to tell you that right now. The good news is there are often ways to work around missing materials, even if it means dictating questions while students write them down. Think one-room schoolhouse. If that doesn’t work, use tomorrow’s plans or switch to a review activity.
6. You realize your lesson is going to end early.
One of the worst feelings as a new teacher is when a lesson ends earlier than expected. You see the kids finishing their assignment. You look at the clock. There are 30 minutes of class left, which in no-lesson-plan time is like a week and a half. You start hoping there’s an announcement, a fire drill, a real fire… anything to keep you from having to answer the dreaded question “So what are we doing next?”
So… what ARE we doing next?
To answer the question, “So what ARE we doing next,” check out the Stressin’ About Lessons chapter of See Me After Class. You’ll find a list of educational activities you can do with little or no preparation, plus suggestions for productive crowd control to keep leftover minutes of class from turning into a classroom management nightmare.
Or, you’ve been having more and more of these good-lessons-go-bad experiences lately, maybe it’s time to sign up for the Disillusionment Power Pack – a free, series of emails to help new teachers through their toughest month of the school year.
P.S. You can now get your copy of Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel!