Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I'm Teaching a New Prep...(gulp)

I’m teaching a new prep for the first time in several years, and I’ve forgotten how it feels. Yes, I know where I have to get students in the end, but I don’t know exactly what we’ll do each class period to get there. Hopefully, no student will ask me what we’re doing the week of March 1st because she’s going on vacation and wants the work ahead of time; I’m basically two lessons ahead of my students at this point.

Luckily, I’ve developed enough new preps to know that I need to take it one day at a time. After teaching each lesson, I learn how long it takes students to do particular tasks and what prior knowledge they truly have mastered. Without experience on those two factors, it is difficult to write lesson after lesson without getting the pacing wrong. While I understand this intellectually, I get nervous without a fat binder of semester long plans in my bag. It shocks me, actually, how tempting I find it to want to roll out a list of lesson plans without regard to what will work well. I know that developing lessons more slowly in response to what I’m finding works with students will yield higher quality stuff, but boy, do I love knowing exactly where a course is going! I frustrate myself when I force a class to go through a lesson I can tell isn’t working; by writing lessons week-to-week, I lower the likelihood of those stressful lessons. I know that. Really. Just yesterday, I found that my lesson over-estimated students’ retention of subject verb agreement. The review I’d thought would take ten minutes stretched to half an hour, pushing several activities I’d planned off until another day. If I’d written the next ten lessons, all ten would need to be written again...

Experiencing this uncertainty heightens my empathy for newer teachers, who may be teaching two or three preps for the first time simultaneously. Also, I think scratching out new lessons for the first time in too long sharpens some of my teaching skills, too; my adrenaline pumps when I realize what I have planned isn’t working how I thought it would. I’ve forgotten that my confidence in my lesson plans enables me to better weather the spontaneous (and sometimes chaotic) nature of my classroom. That confidence in lesson plans develops because I’ve taught the lessons before! For now, I need to take a deep breath and live with the fact that the first time through a new curriculum means taking it day by day and ignore the edgy feeling. Okay. Yes. I’ve decided. Teaching a new prep isn’t difficult—it’s good for me. Okay, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to check my lessons…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

3 comments:

Louann said...

I'm so glad you said this, and I hope to share it with the preservice teachers with whom I work. I've been troubled by their expectation that in their English methods classes they will, on the first day of class, receive a syllabus and schedule that spells out all readings, due dates, and course topics. When I don't provide them with that--because I am not convinced it's even good modeling let alone good pedagogy--they are uncomfortable and distressed to varying degrees during the semester. On the course evaluations, they always mention it.

Your post really hits the quandary we're in--desire for the binder yet knowledge that it's a work in progress. I'd argue that's the case for all classes--and should be--new preps or not. I prefer to teach with something new in every prep, and this was true for the 19 years that I taught junior and senior high English, speech, and drama. The students are always new and in new combinations in the classes; shouldn't our teaching contain some of the new, too?

I love the way you've captured this and made me try to articulate better why the syllabus I have to prepare this weekend is giving me fits.

Kate Kellen said...

Louann, thanks for your response! I'm glad for the support; sometimes I fear I am too honest on this blog...

I, too, have upset students by not having everything in ink on day one. One thing I've done to compromise is to commit to due dates for major assignments. I promise students that while we may have to push things back as the semester rolls along, nothing will be due any earlier than the dates I've provided. Then I give readings, topics, etc. week to week. It seems to help their anxiety somewhat...

Anonymous said...

Boy do I know how you feel! After teaching 8th Grade Gifted English for 13 years, I decided to make the transition back to teaching high school English again. As much as I love it, over the past two years teaching on a block schedule, I have taught EVERY grade level now in high school (9 through 12) and talk about being two lessons ahead of the students ... whew! But I must say, in the end it has certainly made me more aware of being dependent upon the lesson plans I was so comfortably using year in and year out. I think this change has really challenged me as a teacher and has certainly helped me to grow, although at times I keep telling myself, "I'm too old for this!" :)
Kevin