Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Lesson

My teaching lesson for today: A lesson plan is merely a teaching tool. It can become a cudgel for destruction or a hammer for building, depending on the class that wields it.

My morning class was awful. They kept just staring at me as I tried to get them to discuss the reading for today. It's always a struggle to get them involved, but today actually felt like there was an invisible wall between myself and them, and I couldn't break it down. One student was clearly texting. I told her to put her phone away and she flat out refused; she put it on her lap, so she could easily pick it up again as soon as I looked away.

After that altercation, I tried one more time to engage them in discussion and was met only with blank faces. At that point, I told them instead of discussing the reading, they had almost 40 minutes to write an essay response to the reading, which they would then hand in to me. I didn't have any revolters walk out (I held my breath for the first few minutes), but it was just a miserable, boring class with little actual teaching and learning going on.

And yet, I intentionally did not change one thing about my lesson plan for my other class that evening. I went in, taught the exact same lesson, and had a completely opposite response. The students were engaged; we laughed, we learned, and time passed quickly.

I am still the same teacher. It was still the same lesson content and presentation. But the students in the classes are totally different. I totally underestimated how much student personalities can affect the class dynamic. Just a core group of 3-4 students can effect a change on the class for good or for bad. If they are involved and class leaders, the lesson plans become the start for a mutually beneficial experience. If they're disengaged and unhappy, the lesson plans become a cudgel that rains down painful blows and clunky, boring lectures on myself and the class.

It's fascinating and frustrating. What am I supposed to do about it? Student personality is definitely something out of my control.

I think that I need to continually learn and refine techniques to minimize the damage from the cudgels, and encourage building behaviors. Maybe, over time, I can reduce the gulf between the "good" and "bad" classes—keep the good classes improving, and hopefully bringing the bad classes up from "awful" to "could be improved."


Amy said...

How early was this morning class? Was anyone actually awake yet? Because if it was before, say, 10 or 11 a.m., I could perhaps understand why they weren't into the idea of having a spirited debate.

Jonathan said...

Just the fact that you sat there writing about worrying about it speaks volumes about what a fantastic teacher you are.

keefelae said...

Hi Megan,
I feel the same way...class dynamics play a huge role in the amount of learning that could take place. Having lessons go well or completely fail has pushed me to get to know my students better. Since I'm the only one who has control of the lesson plans, knowing what will motivate which class has become my best weapon. It's certainly not a quick fix but it's saved me from some frustration b/c I know which classes will work independently and which need technology to stay engaged.
Just the fact that you take time to reflect on your teaching speaks volumes for your commitment to the profession. Hang in there.

M. Lubbers said...

Amy: The class starts at 11:30!!! I don't think it's unreasonable to expect them to be awake and somewhat responsive.

Jonathan: You're always so encouraging. I appreciate it very much!!

Laurie: I also appreciate your encouragement, because it's nice to hear from a much more experience teacher that I'm not the only one who goes through this. And I appreciate your input about getting to know the students better. Like you, I'm less concerned about a "quick fix" and more concerned about the overall learning experience--for me and for them!