“Teaching Was a Lot More Than Following a Lesson Plan”
My experience as a teacher only spans forty-five minutes. In the spring of my senior year of high school at the end of a long, lazy lunch period I heard my named called in that firm voice of Mr. Hutchins that made everything he said sound like a command. He asked if I were free during the next period “to help him out.” As I said, everything he ever said to me sounded like an order, and this time was no different. So, I was free regardless of the fact I was going to meet up with friends.
The help I was to render was to take charge of a 7th grade English class. The teacher had been called away for reasons that were never disclosed to me, and I was instructed to follow the day’s lesson plan and keep the students in their seats. From the tone of Mr. Hutchins’ voice I gathered that keeping my charges in their seats was of paramount importance. “Just follow the lesson plan. Have them read the story, then go through the discussion points. And take attendance.” He handed me a folder. Inside, a dozen mimeographed sheets (in fast fading blue ink), and one typed page with ten or so questions.
Introductions were simple. I told the class who I was. They each told me their name.
Taking attendance was easy. I passed around a sheet of paper for them to sign.
Then it all went downhill.
I handed out the mimeographed story about a boy rushing through his chores so he could go to the county fair. Somewhere along the way he didn’t latch a gate and a cow (or maybe it was a goat) wandered out and devoured the neighbor’s garden. His time at the fair is ruined by a run-in with a bully, but fortune smiles on the boy when he learns that none other than the bully is blamed for the unlatched gate. Of course, the boy takes responsibility for the roaming cow and transforms the bully into a friend.
I asked the class to read the story. Within seconds one kid calls out he’s already read it, half the class groans and ask why they have to read anything since their “real” teacher isn’t there, and the other half is silent, either staring out the window or at the floor.
I wouldn’t call the next forty minutes a nightmare. Tiring, exasperating, difficult, chaotic all come to mind now. Even so, I did give it the old high school try and blundered on with the lesson plan. (I must admit I quickly gave up on keeping them in their seats. Two boys ended up perching on the heating registers.)
It quickly became apparent that the interest level, reading skill level, conversational skill level, and wakefulness level were as varied as the number of kids in the class. Nothing I could do or say could keep the entire class focused on the lesson plan. The only one who was learning anything related to English class was me: I now fully grasped the meaning of the idiom herding cats.
Despairing how I was going to get through the entire period, and nervous that Mr. Hutchins might pop in, I finally caught a break when one boy loudly called out that the protagonist was an idiot for letting the bully off the hook. I asked if anyone else agreed. They all answered in the affirmative. Even the silent ones! This was a straw I had to grasp. Remembering a long ago assignment (I think it was 6th grade with Mr. Cain.), I proposed we write a different ending to the story. To my surprise they liked this idea and after some discussion it was resolved that we would reverse much of the story. I wrote a sentence on the chalk board and invited a boy up to rewrite it, changing verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs as he saw fit.
Of course, the class was noisy, and a bit disorderly, as students took turns rewriting sentences with the help of their classmates. But they were engaged. I think we got through four or five sentences. I did have one moment of actual teaching when I pulled off the shelf a Roget’s Thesaurus and instructed the boys how to navigate it to find antonyms.
After class I returned the folder with the attendance sheet to Mr. Hutchins. He thanked me. I should have thanked him. Even though I had already been a student for more than a dozen years, I learned that day that teaching was a lot more than following a lesson plan.
About the Author: P. E. Yudkoff is the author of The Kylxon Chronicles. When he is not writing he is often tinkering with animation or creating designs for 3D printing. Away from the computer Yudkoff enjoys a good hands-on building project or a leisurely walk with the family dog, Josie. Visit his website at: peyudkoff.com
About the Book: Thirteen-year-old Pack’s world is turned upside down when he discovers an old pair of shoes that magically makes him very smart. But Pack begins to suspect there’s more to the shoes than increased brainpower. Soon, voices pop into his head offering all kinds of advice. Some of it helpful and some of it very dangerous, but none explaining what they’re doing in his head. When a neighbor mysteriously disappears, suspecting foul play Pack and his best friend, Sydney, start to investigate. Pack’s new skills and power come in handy, but soon the magic reveals a vile side. Sydney fears the changes she sees in her friend as he strays down a villainous path. But Sydney’s a tough girl, and she’s not giving up her best buddy to a ratty pair of weird, old shoes without a fight!
Thank you, P. E., for this post! We had a lot of fun reading about your teaching experience!