We spend lots of time and energy creating the best possible lessons that we can. We get excited about them and feel good about them. Thus many days, armed with well thought-out lessons, we achieve a measure of success in our classes. But then there are those days when nothing works. When the lesson we poured our energy into falls flat on the floor. The kind of day when the lesson is getting disrupted by off-task students, and a carefully scaffolded intro leaves student after student saying “I don’t get it”, “what am I supposed to do?”. The volume of off-task chatter rises and opens the door to increased behavior problems. Behavior problems by the way, that are ripe for misintrepretation by the now frustrated teacher.
First thing to remember during these times – You are not your lesson plan. Thus every student act of ignoring it, failing at it, brushing it aside, sleeping during it, distracting it, or any other negative, is not a personal affront to you. That took me awhile to realize. In my own practice, in the midst of my favorite lessons failing it would bring up anger and frustration, often towards the students who were most clearly rejecting me (of course they were not actually rejecting me, but hence the point of this post).
There are an array of reasons a lesson might fail, but you will be unable to properly diagnose any of them if you are angry. Anything in your teaching practice that creates negative energy towards your students, your profession, or yourself, needs to be analyzed and reconstructed. These negative emotions commonly end up concluding that the lesson failed because the students are lazy, don’t care or don’t pay attention. Maybe they were or didn’t, but if that is the primary conclusion then you are overlooking a couple important facts: First – there is a way to improve the lesson and those students are helping you discover it. Secondly, deep down you were probably personally offended by the way the students interacted with your lesson, which is intimately connected to your identity as a teacher. Thus you feel like a failure, and angry at those who exposed you.
Experience doesn’t necessarily help in this situation. This problem of identifying with our lesson plans actually got worse for me as I became more experienced. Because often at some point we as teachers, who pour ourselves into teaching, begin to recieve a fair amount of praise from adminstrators and students. We start to look at ourselves as great teachers, which makes the day when that identity is challenged even more difficult to take.
So bottom line is this: You aren’t your lesson plan. Don’t take it personal. If you have a lesson that collapses into failure don’t get upset, don’t get stressed out, don’t get frustrated. Stay positve and do whatever you have to do in that moment to teach the best you can. Afterwards, I recommend you take a moment to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and how it could be improved. Make sure you properly file that reflection so you can use it the next time you plan the lesson. After that, just finish the day and be done with it.