Describing myself as a planner is a strong understatement. There should probably be a diagnosis for the extent to which I meticulously outline as many areas of my life as possible. It all boils down to a desire for control and to be “hyper-responsible” (a term I once read in article that fits me perfectly). My life, however, has recently shifted into high-gear and left me without enough hours in the day to plan my every waking moment, but what frustrates me to no end is that I feel I now have more things that NEED to be planned than ever!
At school, I’m planning weekly lessons, IEPs and their associated meetings, and a presentation at an upcoming conference. I also have taken on a night job teaching an introductory special education course at a local college, which begins this week. Outside of work there’s Sunday school lessons, activities for the youth group, and, last but not least, a wedding. Wow, I really need to transition to the next paragraph before I have a nervous breakdown!
Despite the current hectic nature of my life, I obviously always make time to write weekly lessons plans for my class. Do they get done the Thursday before like in the past? No way. But I always have my lesson plan book filled out and ready to roll by Monday. The first half of last week, I was really beginning to notice that my students, especially the new sixth graders, were settling in very well to the new school and classroom. All my students were doing well with our routine and classroom expectations, and the lessons and activities I had planned were being carried out.
Thursday, however, was one of those days that you only survive by praying. I have two students in my class who face very difficult circumstances at home. As most teachers know, what happens at home doesn’t stay there; it affects the child at all times. On Thursday, it was as if both of these students were at their limit of what they could handle. Both were anxious, easily angered, and aggressive. This soon turned to non-compliance, verbal and physical outbursts, and arguments with other students. There were behavior specialists and case managers in and out of the room. My other ten students were obviously affected, as well. I feel like me and my assistants spent that school day just trying to reestablish peace in our classroom.
There was some improvement on Friday, but things were still not what I consider “back to normal.” When I was preparing lessons last weekend, I didn’t plan for Thursday and Friday to go like they did. I didn’t set aside time in the plan book for calling parents, talking one-on-one with my students who were having difficult days, or consulting with other professional about how to help my kids.
To state the obvious, not all of my precious lesson plans were accomplished. By Friday afternoon, that was beginning to bother me. There were about 40 minutes of class time left before my students were going to enjoy a snack they had prepared earlier in the day as part of life skills instruction. I glanced at my plan book to inventory the things that had gone undone the past two days, but, oddly enough, none of them seemed very appealing to me.
Then a random idea popped into my head. We had been discussing a NASA space rover that recently landed on Mars all week in class and my students had drawn pictures of what they thought photos taken by the rover might look like. My idea was to get out my video camera and allow each student to come up in front of the class, share their drawings, and answer two interview questions: “What do you think the rover will see?” and “Why do you think it will see that?”
It was amazing! My students’ eyes lit up just listening to me explain the activity. They all gave their presentations, listened to each other, smiled at the camera, and applauded their fellow classmates. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my short teaching career thus far. I look forward to letting the students watch their videos and am sure I will be watching them again, too.
I have to share my favorite answers to the interview questions. One of my very talkative students showed his four drawings and explained that he thought the rover would see “lots of rockets and habitats on other planets with aliens.” When I asked why, he thought for a second and then responded very confidently, “Because it’s a fact.”
What did I learn from all of this? I can’t perfectly plan for days like Thursday and Friday. My students’ well-beings come before my lesson plans on those types of days. I also learned that sometimes the greatest moments are the unplanned ones, those times as a teacher when you just feel a nudge to veer off your lesson plans and share an amazing moment with your students. Sometimes my plans aren’t the best ones. I’m thankful for days like Thursday and Friday; it’s days like those that make me a better teacher, a better person, and remind me that I do have the best job ever.