10 Thoughts During a Failed Lesson

About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Foundation Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

Thought 1: “I like this lesson”

It might not be my best, but I’m satisfied with it. It’s educational. It’s collaborative. There’s some entertainment value. It certainly is important to their lives and what we’ve been previously talking about. It’ll be successful.

Thought 2: “What the h*#%! is going on here?!”

It doesn’t seem like things are working. I mean, I reviewed it ahead of time. The lesson aligns with the materials which aligns with the standards which aligns with my teaching style and their learning styles. I’ve differentiated it and provided help to my neediest students. But… what the h*#%! is going on?!

Thought 3: “They’re not working hard enough”

“Hey you, kid. Remember how on the last test you pointed to where X was instead of ‘finding’ it? This is a prime example of your lethargy. What’s your problem?! Get it into gear!”

Just look around; these kids can’t get it because they’re goofing off. These two are singing songs and these three haven’t even read the directions yet. No wonder they don’t know how to do this!

Thought 4: “Well, they need to struggle anyways”

Their teachers next year aren’t hold their hand. They’re going to expect me to push them and place them outside their comfort zones lest they be coddled like toddlers. Isn’t that where deep learning occurs anyway? Who said that – Piaget? Vygotsky? One of my education professors from years back? Anyway, they were right. They’ll get it.

Thought 5: “Oh God, they’re really not getting it”

I’ve scanned the room 5 times now and see that not only are the slackers not getting it, but the high-flyers aren’t getting it either. One of the kids told me reading this “just sounds like a bunch of words Charlie Brown’s teacher would say to them.” Wow, they’re cultured enough to know Charlie Brown. But. Not. This.

Thought 6: “Panic mode: ENGAGE!”

They’re not getting it because I missed something. Maybe they didn’t learn the previous concepts so well. Maybe I didn’t scaffold the lesson enough. Maybe it’s the damn textbook and all that crap they threw at us in 2 days of summer training earlier this year. If I crawl under the desk for a second and pray, will they think I’m crying?

Thought 7: Time to make a decision

Do I continue to let them struggle? Do I scrap the lesson? Do I figure out how to carve out 5 minutes and go with a Plan B? Do I redirect and focus on time? What other stuff do I have to improve this train wreck of pedagogy? And, by God, HOW MANY MINUTES ARE LEFT IN CLASS?!?!?!

Thought 8: Time to put it into high gear

I’m closing my laptop and turning off the music. Let’s group up. Let’s power our way through this. If I have to guide these notes or this activity with all 30 of you on my back, well, by God, I’m going to do it. Let’s climb!

Thought 9: This isn’t what learning looks like

Learning shouldn’t be this exhaustive for teachers. Holy smokes. I think I just sweat through my shirt back. I really pooched this one. Even worse, it shouldn’t be this exhaustive for students. Two kids cried over this lesson! Over primary sources! What am I doing here?!

Thought 10: Time to reflect

What do I do next? Do I offer the kids an apology? Should it be a Remind text or in-class? What would the kids say – and could they help me? Do I reteach the lesson tomorrow? Or how do I supplement it? Do I give them my notes? What are my colleagues doing right now? I need some of their ideas. I also need to flag this lesson for next year, but, for now, I need to focus on why it didn’t go well. Did I under-prepare? Overassume? I’ve got to write it in my journal.

What do I do next class? Let’s go back to something that’ll be guaranteed to go well, like a reader’s theater play!

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About the Author:

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Foundation Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

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