Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #30
Lessons will never be perfect. I think young teachers especially are plagued by perfectionism. But the truth is that no lesson is ever perfect. That is why I’m so suspicious of scripted curriculum. It can’t possibly be suited for every single class you teach because it was only created with the standards in mind, not Joe, Ashley, Claire, and Billy.
I recall pouring massive amounts of time into my lessons my first year, only to see them fall to pieces with my Lit and Lang 10 students.
Luckily for me, though, I had second hour prep and after that four more classes of Lit and Lang 10 to work out the kinks in those lessons.
Usually what I’d do is take the one or two things that worked (and it was maybe a joke I made to engage the kids or an example I used to highlight something I wanted the students to remember or maybe it was an embarrassing story I told them about me) and focus more on those and less on the rest of the assignment that didn’t work.
The worst thing, I think, is to damn the torpedoes and just bury your head in the sand and teach the same lesson over and over again . . . even if it doesn’t work.
And even if the lesson goes smashingly with one class, it doesn’t mean it will work with any other classes.
I recall teaching the Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” (often called “A Dream Deferred”) to my first block Lit and Lang 10 class.
It went over so well. I had descriptive examples of the senses Hughes’ so skillfully hits in each line with his incredible use of similes.
We talked about the allusion to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We wrote our own similes. Then we talked about the effect of Hughes’ rhetorical questions.
It was amazing.
Then second block came and I thought that this lesson went so damn well I didn’t even need to revise it. In fact, I thought any tinkering on my part would only screw it up. So I left it as is.
Third block rolled around and . . . it bombed.
Third block didn’t laugh or get grossed out by my examples of the senses. The didn’t pick up on the allusion to King’s speech. They were mildly entertained by writing their own similes, but they were bored of the talk of anything to do with rhetorical questions.
I was crushed.
But I learned a valuable lesson: lessons aren’t “things,” rather they are “moments.”
And some of those moments aren’t perfect.
In fact, 15 years later, I’m actually happy when the lessons don’t go quite according to plan. That means I have some tweaking and revising to do, which I love, and it means that I am constantly learning and growing.
So don’t fool yourself into thinking your lessons have to be perfect. By all means prepare and have a great hook to engage and intrigue your students, have worthwhile classroom tasks that are carefully scaffolded so you can ease up and let the students do the bulk of the work, and then make sure you have tasks that illustrate what the students have learned from your lesson (we call these evidence of learning). But in that framework there is a lot of room to grow and modify.