Last week I had the great fortune to fail, and fail miserably with a lesson. It was during a 90 minute class at the end of the day that my epic failure occurred.
I was attempting to teach a lesson that had gone quite smoothly the rest of the day. However, about 30 minutes into class and nothing was getting accomplished. I was frustrated, the students were frustrated and it was just a melting pot of anxiety, disappointment and sheer annoyance for all.
Class ended and I was extremely upset.
"What is wrong with this class?!" I thought. All my other classes had completed the lesson, all my other classes did the work. "They are just lazy." I was supposed to stay after and help some students, but instead I left in order to decompress and avoid taking out my frustrations on anyone else.
This was the best decision I made. Like most of us, I just couldn't stop thinking about what a disaster that class had been. Slowly I went back through the lesson and thought about what went on. And then it hit me. The kids weren't lazy, the lesson just plain sucked. This year I went from teaching all co-teach classes, to teaching only one (7th). Up until this day my students had been working with rote activities that required little autonomy. So why on earth was I surprised that when I set this mixed level class free they flailed? The answer is because I wasn't being true to my own pedagogy, but instead trying to fit myself into a box and with it the lesson and the entire class. In doing so I failed to give the lesson and the class the consideration they deserved.
As I began looking back I realized that this year I have focused more on trying to prepare my students for the test as best as possible. In doing so I tried to adopt the beliefs and strategies of others. Some of these are founded on research and well thought out ideas, while others are founded on fear and archaic systems.
Why? Nobody forced me, nobody threatened me. However, like many of my fellow educators I live in a world where "the test" drives a lot of the thinking and doing. I became hungry for my students to succeed, for them to beat the very beast scratching at our doors. What a mistake.
Last year I tried a number of new things, and watched my students struggle beautifully as they worked through problems and built their own knowledge base. But this year I started off on the opposite foot, and it was the worst mistake ever.
After that 7th period class I realized that I needed to be true to my own pedagogical beliefs. As a trusted colleague once told me, "as long as your ideas are based on sound pedagogy, then the learning will occur". She was right. I have returned to my messy, mistake driven learning and things are as they once were. 7th period is still a toughie and requires an ample amount of attention and flexibility on my part.
But I now realize that they are my best class. For had they not challenged me when all my other classes were just doing, then I would have never come to my afore mentioned realization. I love them because they keep me grounded on what matters. And what matters are my students and their learning. The test will not go away, and there will be other failures (I hope). But 7th period helped remind me why I teach in the first place, because it is challenging and it allows me to challenge others. I am given the task of preparing them to thrive in the 21st century work force. I am tasked with creating innovators and leaders. I can't do that in a box.
So don't discount the class that holds your feet to the fire, because they just might save you from losing yourself.