This is another upside down blog post. I’d like to rewind this day (and more) back, take you on this backward journey through the convulsive, abrupt and illogical path of my logic, and finally reach the moment when the #OneThing happened. Here we go.
Any day is a set of scenes, each of them full of small things that happen and often go unnoticed, like they weren’t there at all. But they were. And one class in a thread of classes on a long teaching day is a subscene, full of small things that happen and often go unnoticed, or worse, misinterpreted. This one class does not ask you to keep your eyes open for the #onething, nor does it need you to speculate on your professional (in)efficiency. This one class has likely been planned and will surely go its own way, whether this way and your lesson plan go the same way or their paths diverge. This one class will have its unique air, which will be the product of: the moods of the people in class; the feelings of the people in class about the class and about the people in class; the attitude factor; the choices and reactions to these choices; the mindset for this class and these people in it. And probably many other factors, not excluding your choice of a warmer activity and a smooth progression of lesson stages.
What can ruin your class? Do you really think a class can be “ruined”? I don’t think classes get ruined because of inconsistent lesson plans, poor discipline, unprepared students, absence of students, etc. I think a class is 90 minutes which will go and be over no matter what happens in this time. Last week, and the week before, I was battling with every 90-minute slot gritting my teeth to come out emotionally intact myself and with the least amount of damage to my students. The unique air of my classes was predetermined by my anticipation of problems; by my uncertainty regarding my plans; by my unwillingness to face the people in my class; by my own heavy emotional background for those days. No class was ruined in a sense that would imply self-criticism of high order. I am sure my students left the classroom without any strong aftertaste, the most tangible and noticeable maybe being the idea that the teacher looked tired/ bored/ strict/ unwelcoming/ unfriendly. I do believe this was the most harmful impact those classes had, for them. And I felt disoriented and stuck, wishing to flee the university building asap. No harm in that either. I slept, time passed, and today we had great classes which had a very different unique air, because the teacher felt different, and all the components in the subscene of this day fitted together more or less nicely.
For one of the groups I teach the homework was to watch a section from Britain is Great series (individually assigned for every student) and be ready to talk about it. 9 out of 12 students were present. 6 out of 9 students were prepared. 2 out of 6 students had accidentally clicked the same link in our Google Doc and watched the same videos. So we had 5 topics instead of many. The planned activity would have meant working in 2 groups, listening to the different aspects of the greatness of Britain, and completing the KWL charts about the topics discussed in that group with the notes.
I was not shocked or angry or even displeased about the fact those 3 students were not ready for class. Neither were their groupmates. So, while I was having an indecisive moment of thinking how to rearrange the group for the task now with this information, Student K suggested they worked in 3 groups with 1 unprepared groupmate in each. Then they’d move to other groups and listen to other students talking about the greatness, and in this way would all try to cover all 5 topics, in a more engaging and dynamic way (this is now my personal comment, she didn’t really say these words).
I am not sure I had to do much that class. It was interesting to listen to them speak and make comments, and be openly uninspired by some of those topics. It was great to see them organize their lesson flow, set the pace, search for the shortcuts to get finished with the task with less effort in less time. My amazement and satisfaction were piqued when I saw two of the three unprepared guys sit a little aside and start filling each other in on what they’d each heard or missed. That was the #OneThing moment.
Somehow I felt a relief, and I was smiling and felt very good about having these people, all 9 of them, in that room. Because I can trust them to self-regulate our time together, because they seem to trust me to find a compromise. Because today we helped each other to bridge the gaps and create the unique air which probably left all the people in that class feeling involved, respected, and hopefully learning.
Well, at least this lesson left me feeling good about us and willing to write this post.