Does One Difficult Class Period Mean the Project is a Bust?

While I try to live by the mantra, Fake it ’til you make it, I do indeed have bad days; I just try hard to hide it.  I put a smile on my face and go about my day like it truly is the best day of my life, and no one is the wiser.  When a former student and close family friend of mine passed away several years ago, I cried for a long time, but I needed to be strong for my current students and for the student’s family.  It was a difficult time, but I weathered it with a positive attitude.  Things did get better, but I still think about that student frequently.  Just because he is no longer with us doesn’t mean that I need to stop living or stop trying to live life to the fullest to pay respect to him.  I knew that, but it was hard at first.  On the day of his funeral, a student asked me how I was and while my answer is almost always, “The best day of my life,” my response was a bit different on that day.  “I’ve been better,” I said.  This threw the student for a loop.  Heck, it even rattled me a bit.  That was when I realized that I needed to change my way of thinking.  I need to embrace life the way David did.  So, I did.  I look at each new day as a gift and jump into life head first with a smile on my face.  One bad moment or difficult time doesn’t mean that the good times have ended.  Sometimes, life makes us push the pause button to allow us to see what really matters.  Luckily, I was able to push the play button once again with the help of David’s memories and the fact that I knew I needed to be there to support his family and my students.

When it comes to teaching, I can sometimes get caught up in the moment and think the worst.  “Oh, that lesson was horrible.  I totally messed up my students now.  They will never be engaged in the classroom again.  I should just give up,” are some of the things I think when a lesson or activity doesn’t go the way I had hoped.  Although I do usually find ways to solve my problems and jump right back into the classroom the very next day with an awesome and engaging lesson, I do sometimes get stuck and think negative thoughts like, “This project is horrible.  What was I thinking?  My students can’t handle being outside.”  Luckily though, like tough moments in life, there is always a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

After a difficult previous STEM class, I was worried that today’s work period would also be a bust.  I didn’t think my students could handle being outside and learning from the natural world.  I figured that after Tuesday’s result they weren’t mature enough.  There’s no way they will be able to focus today in the heat with the bugs swarming about their heads.  They will be super unproductive outside today, I thought.  However, like all great teachers, I put on a happy face and started class with some positive words of encouragement.  I reminded the students of the expectations and the level of maturity needed to handle going outside again.  I reviewed the requirements for the final product due next Saturday.  I even showed them some samples students from previous years had crafted.  I wanted to help them understand the importance of staying focused outside so that they will be able to accomplish the task at hand.  I wanted to build a strong foundation of study skills and diligence within them.  While internally I didn’t have high hopes, I externally held the bar high for the boys.  And perhaps, this is what lead to today’s amazing outcome in STEM class.

The boys were all very focused on taking copious and detailed notes on the various flora and fauna samples in their forest plot.  They sketched images of their findings and made astute observations.  They stayed in their self-chosen forest plot and learned about the natural world.  They utilized guidebooks to identify trees and asked insightful questions to learn more about the ecology of the area in which our school is located.  I was so impressed with how engaged they were.  The students filled with excitement when they correctly identified a tree or found hints of animal life.  It was awesome.  I was so proud of the boys.  They were like true naturalists.

So then, what happened between Tuesday and today?  After Tuesday’s class, I worried if they’d be able to handle this project as a class.  Several of the students were unfocused and not working; they wandered around the forest talking to their peers.  How were they able to be so on-task today?  It was hotter and more buggy outside today than it was on Tuesday.  Was it that I reviewed the expectations and explained how important and precious their outside work time is?  Did that make a difference?  Perhaps they didn’t fully grasp how little time they had in class to work on this project.  Maybe today was a wakeup call for them.  Or maybe they just needed some process time for the novelty to wear off.  Now that they knew the expectations and knew what to expect when going outside, they could just settle right in and focus.  Maybe that was what lead to today’s result.  Whatever it was that caused today to be as amazing as it was, I was reminded that one bad lesson or class day doesn’t mean that the whole unit or project is a bust.  Just like our students, we can have a bad class or day and still wake up tomorrow ready to go with a smile on our face.


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