Lately I’ve been attempting to hold myself to a regimen, something I’ve been calling the “hard parts” routine. I started doing this because I wanted to make sure that I was doing intellectual heavy lifting about teaching on a daily basis. The idea was supposed to improve the overall quality of my lessons, while helping me notice things that could help me out in some of my longer term projects.
Here’s what I produced this morning for my first three periods:
I left the exercise satisfied. I forced myself to do hard work. I didn’t have any insights or great lesson ideas, but I thought that I had done the work faithfully and rigorously.
Today’s lesson was a flop.
What went wrong?
So, is my “hard parts” exercise a flop as well? If my exercise is supposed to ensure lesson quality, and I did the exercise well, then why did my lessons really suck today?
Here are the logical possibilities:
- I didn’t actually do the exercise well.
- The exercise doesn’t always work.
Which is more plausible today?
Did I do the exercise well?
Did I do the exercise well? It felt as if I did. My brain was working hard. I was tempted to do something easier, or to just fart around on the internet, but I resisted the urge. I tried to figure out where the stumbling blocks that my kids would have are.
If I have to pick at something that went wrong with my “hard parts” exercise, I’d pick on the following things:
- I started a bit late.
- On my best days, I have a sort of curricular insight while I’m doing this exercise. There was no “aha!” moment as I was writing today. These “aha!” moments are the sort of things that give me a sort of clarity about how the day will go. All of the sudden I realize that there’s a great problem that we can study, or I realize how I can frame the problem in a way that they’ll really be into, or I have an insight about an activity and the whole lesson just quickly falls into place. That was missing today. I don’t know if there’s any way to increase the chances that I’ll have a moment like that, but it was certainly missing from the exercise today.
Maybe the exercise doesn’t always work?
So much for that. But maybe I did the exercise well, but the exercise doesn’t always guarantee a good lesson?
Of course, that’s certainly true. There’s nothing that can secure a good lesson against any odds. But today was a fairly normal day. Kids came in happy. They started fine. They just weren’t into the math that I was offering. (What were they into? Throwing dice around the room, apparently.)
I was tired and grouchy. I was nasty to a few kids. I got fed up with behavior stuff, and I’m (apparently) fairly sensitive to being laughed at by kids. I fell into some dumb classroom management traps. I responded to a kid who was provoking me, giving him a stage. I called a kid out for not trying hard enough in front of the entire class, killing lots of goodwill. I’m burning through their trust and respect really quickly.
Wrap it up, Pershan.
I guess there’s no resolution. I need to keep an eye on my exercise, to make sure that it’s working OK. If it’s not helping my lessons, then I have to ditch it and try something else.
But maybe the more likely explanation is that, as much as I’d like to just focus on curriculum and the big ideas of pedagogy, classroom management remains my weak area as a teacher. I need to take a breather and figure out a rational plan for how I behave when kids mess up.