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."