My lesson plan is cooked up. On some days, I rely on the same old eggs and toast, but this time, I whipped up something special, seasoned with inspiring sense of purpose, custom-made from time-consuming assessment of student work. If they listen, if I can keep their attention for just a few minutes, if I get this thing rolling, it’s going to be good. They’re going to feel motivated, confidently glide through the steps I’ve laid out, take away a sense of satisfaction from what I’ve led them through, accomplish some breakthroughs in their academic language use while taking away an increased sense of efficacy, start imagining themselves as scholars and leaders.
Before class has even begun, the train starts coming off the tracks. My technology is glitchy, and my eyes and hands are preoccupied fidgeting with it. Kid-with-no-filters marches into the classroom somehow simultaneously distracted by a video game on his cell phone and filling the airspace with unprocessed nonsense questions designed to annoy. A pack of guys saunters in a passive-aggressive thirty seconds late, right as I’m gaining momentum in my attention-grabbing opening salvo, deflating my speech completely. Suddenly, my passion is shading into anger. Nine student start class short of the basic starting point: no pencils, headphones in the ears, hoodies covering eyes, head on the table, and/or KickOff page nowhere to be found. Addressing these nine, even efficiently, leaves me breathless for the rest of the students, who copy the KickOff prompt and then stop short of the actual thinking part of the task. Only four students try; of these, only two have appropriately applied the simple language lesson we have been repetitively practicing with little variation for two full weeks now.
From there, I’m damned both ways. If I rely on routines, students who have struggled with the actual cognitive challenge but managed procedural displays of the activities might toss a few bones my way, but by this time of year, few routines have not been drained of their original intent. If I introduce a new activity, the instructions, the risks I ask them to take, the confusion because of half-understood instructions, whatever it is, makes the prospects of a properly functioning and useful (let alone engaging and curiosity-stoking) activity pretty grim.
At the end of a rough class period of cajoling, preaching, reflecting and asking for reflection, reviewing, reading student work, I am spent. Is the curriculum centered around relevant inquiry questions, social justice and personal interest related? Yes. Are my activities appropriately scaffolded, with progressive sharing of responsibility, and thoughtfully backwards-planned? Yes. As I maintaining positive relationships of trust, support, and accountability with students? Insofar as I can. Do I give students immediate, direct feedback that they can act on to improve, take the next steps, and push themselves to an appropriate level of challenge? I think so. I try.
What would I tell myself if I were coaching myself? If I were watching this class every day, seeing what I tried, understanding what was going on with these students?
I would say, keep on. Keep at it. You think enough about what to do, and you’re already doing what you can do.
And when I heard that from myself? I would shake my head. It’s not enough. It’s not enough.