Posted in Education, Humanities, Teaching

Sometimes, Even the Greatest Ideas Go Awry

As the sun reflected off of my balding head, I grew warm quite quickly in the hot summer heat.  Luckily though, I was at the beach, and so I ran into the ocean to cool off.  The icy cold waters of Maine instantly reminded me why I had endured the heat from the beach for so long.  The water was terribly cold.  My toes went numb right away, but I went in all of the way despite the pain and torture.  When my son joined me in the water, I thought it would be a great idea to seize the few moments that remained of his childhood.  So, we made jumping over the waves an awesome game.  We were laughing and having a blast.  In fact, I had stopped feeling the cold water against my skin because I was so zoned in on enjoying the time with my son.  In retrospect, I should have been more thoughtful before I went into the water, but, because I was so hot and in need of cooling down, my brain wasn’t functioning properly.  I failed to remove my glasses as I headed into the ocean.  This was all fine and dandy until the wave jumping fun began.  As the tide began to come in, the waves grew taller and bigger.  Eventually, they started to go over our heads.  Then, of course, the perfect storm of all waves came, washing the glasses right off of my face.  Sure, I tried to fumble for them at the bottom of the ocean, but as the water is constantly moving, I didn’t have high hopes of finding them.  While I had fun in the water and was able to cool off, my preparation was lacking, which lead to the poor consequence of losing my glasses.  Sometimes, even the best ideas go awry.

The same premise goes for teaching as well.  There are times when I plan, what I feel and believe to be, the greatest lesson, activity, or unit ever and it bombs miserably in execution for various reasons.  Today was a prime example of how despite preplanning, good ideas can still meander off course quickly.

My goal was to explain to the students how to create their I-Search presentation.  I wanted to do it in a way that made sense to the boys.  Instead of having my co-teacher or I explain the steps of the presentation process, I wanted to have the students describe what needs to happen.  As several students had already started their presentation prior to our March Break, I figured that at least one of them would have a strong enough understanding of the process that they could explain it to their peers using boy-friendly language.  This was what I had planned.  It felt like a brilliant idea.  I was ready to execute it as planned.  Then, of course, the unexpected occurred.

When I called on a student to explain the presentation process, he used such abstract and confusing language that even I had difficulty comprehending what his message was.  So, I clarified the process for the class, fearing that the other student volunteer would also have a vague response.  I rolled with it, like all great teachers do, but I felt a bit deflated.  I didn’t want to own the explanation, but I did want to ensure that all of the students fully understood the presentation expectations and requirements.  Fortunately, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I held onto my original idea of allowing the students to run the show throughout my explanation.  After I had gone through the process and answered questions the students asked, I had a volunteer summarize the process involved.  This might work, I thought, and if it doesn’t, oh well.  They all still know what they need to do.  That’s when the magic happened.  This student briefly and succinctly described the process involved in creating the I-Search presentation.  He used student-friendly language, but the ideas were there throughout his explanation.  Yes!  It was all coming together.  It just took a bit longer than I had intended.

The moral of the story is that no matter how much preparation we as teachers put into lessons, activities, or projects, bumps and detours are bound to happen.  We need to be flexible and open to allowing the journey to unfold the way it will.  While I had wanted the students to be the ones explaining the process involved in creating the I-Search presentation, I was able to have a student summarize and review the steps after the fact.  Close enough.  I got the outcome I had wanted, just in a slightly different format.  Sometimes, what we think went wrong ends up being what we needed to have happen in that particular moment.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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