lesson · lesson fail · teacher

Lessons Learned from the Worst Lesson Ever

Teacher friends, today was a hard day.

I walked out of my classroom this afternoon with my head hung and my confidence shot.  This afternoon, in my seventh year of teaching, I experienced one of the worst lessons I have ever taught.  It wasn’t pretty.

Let me give you some backstory to start.  My grade level recently agreed to pilot a new math program.  We were super excited to get our materials — student books, teacher guides, tons of new math manipulatives, center games, and more — and begin teaching this week.  We planned last week and, over the weekend, I poured over the new materials to prepare for the coming week.  I knew that my students would struggle with the material, so I prepared some supplemental materials.  We were ready.

Sometimes, however, you just can’t be prepared enough.  I don’t know if it was the material was too hard or the fact that it was directly after lunch and the attention span of my third graders was lacking. When my students’ eyes started to glaze over and their attentiveness started to fade, I realized the lesson was going south.  I tried to redirect and pull out some fun, hands-on material… only to be met with what seemed like chaos.  Too much.  Too soon.  It was a disaster.  They were lost and I was only confusing them more.

The lesson bombed.  HARD.

I am a seventh year teacher, by no means a pro, but also far from a beginner.  I’ve grown tremendously in the last seven years and I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work.  I’ve also learned that sometimes, no matter how much you prepare and plan for the unexpected… sometimes, your lesson just sucks.

And you know what?  It’s okay.

My confidence took a major blow and we lost nearly an hour of instructional time, but it’s okay.  After the manipulative fiasco, I had my students calmly put away their materials (they did so wonderfully) and close their books.  After taking a quick thumbs up/thumbs down assessment of the room to confirm my fears that about four of my students were understanding today’s lesson, I did something some teachers would never dare to do.

I apologized.

Even reflecting upon the lesson, I’m not sure where it went wrong, but I know that it was not my students’ fault.  It was mine.  I apologized to my students and assured them that it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t understand.  I told them we’d come back to it tomorrow after I’d had time to come up with a better plan.  Then, we moved on.

Bad lessons happen, teachers.  It does not matter how prepared you are or how well you know the content or your students, bad lessons happen.  Hopefully, they do not happen often, but they will happen.  You show the kind of teacher you are by how you react to it.  Will you blame your students for not paying attention or understanding?  Or will you reflect upon your practice and work to be better?  There’s always a lesson for you to learn.

Keep at it, teacher friends.  Your students depend on you.  And remember, even on the bad days, you make a difference.