Teaching Opinion

Teacher Myth: Teachers Can Prepare for Everything, All the Time

By Starr Sackstein — May 08, 2017 4 min read
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As a type-A personality, I can’t help but want to be prepared; it’s in my nature. Meticulously, I explore and research topics before I teach them, ensuring full engagement and smooth sailing for the period.

Always be over prepared is my motto; this way we don’t run out of learning materials.

Early in my career, I was afraid of my lessons “failing.” So I tried to plan for everything, but what nobody told me is that adolescents are unpredictable and therefore lessons I felt could be awesome, at times didn’t end up as such.

“Crickets” I started calling it. It’s the deadening silence that happens when kids aren’t engaged or they don’t understand a question.

Sometimes I’d say “heads” which meant all I could see is the top of the students’ heads when they’d lean down and I could see a sea of hair instead of eyes. It always got a chuckle.

As years went on, these particular kinds of experiences continued to happen but not as much. I learned not to get so upset about it.

One year, I had a great idea to do a dinner party while we discussed Pride and Prejudice. As I was driving to school, this amazing idea came to me to get the kids in character and have them moving around the classroom to experience the novel on a different level.

When I arrived in class that day, I eagerly announced that we’d be planning for a dinner party and each person in class would come in character bringing an item that represented them as a talking piece. Visualizing how it would turn out, I got more and more excited about the success of the lesson before it even started.

Friday rolled around and it was time. Half the class forgot to bring in their items and I didn’t anticipate my best kids being unprepared. I also failed to figure out how the lesson would progress.

The bell rang and the kids took their seats. The chart paper with the objective was in the same place. The protocol was up—I gave directions for about three minutes and off we went. Fifteen minutes in and the lesson was beginning a fast descent, gathering speed and flaming as it was headed toward the ground of disaster.

So I did the only thing I could do to save the lesson and the kids from imminent doom...

“Time out, everyone go back to your seats.”

The kids looked at me, shrugged and sat back down.

“This lesson sucks. It was very different in my head. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out as I planned and isn’t as fun or educational as I expected. On Monday, we’re going to do a ‘do over.’ I promise, I will have a better framework in place.”

Since the kids were used to my candor at this point, they nodded and admitted it wasn’t going so well. We talked about why it wasn’t working and how they thought it could be improved for our second run on Monday.

For the remainder of the period, the kids prepared for Monday. They studied their characters, brainstormed what kinds of objects they could bring to class on Monday. The offered suggestions for making it run more smoothly.

Although red with embarrassment when it first didn’t work out, I was so grateful for how maturely my students regarded this learning opportunity. Because I was brave enough to admit it didn’t work, the kids eagerly engaged in helping me fix it.

So I reflected. Looked back on the lesson as it was originally planned and figured out why it didn’t work and what could be done differently to ensure the most positive learning experience for the kids.

Monday, I got to school early and set up the room. Chart paper all over the room, furniture moved. Ready. To make sure the kids were prepared, I had sent out an email Sunday night to remind them to bring in their objects.

The period went so well that no one wanted to leave and we carried it over into the second day. What started as a complete failure of a lesson turned into the kind of moment that we aspire to every day as teachers. The glow in the kids’ eyes, the chatter and movement in the classroom when all of the kids are on task without prompting.

Had I not had the wherewithal to call a “timeout,” this amazing opportunity would have been lost. We can’t plan for everything as teachers, no matter how much we want to, but we, like the kids, have the chance to keep trying until we get it right. We mustn’t get discouraged with our mistakes, but rather use them to push harder and become better. This is the only way to truly transcend the boredom of the “traditional” classroom.

We need to be able to shift the focus of a lesson on a dime if the opportunity arises. Reality is that the shift may lead to something much better than we could have ever thought of.

Unintended consequences of the myth

Trying to control everything takes away from some of the magic that can happen when you don’t expect it. Learning moments turn up in unlikely places and if you are unwilling to capitalize on it when it happens, everyone will lose a potentially life changing experience.


Life is unpredictable, and so are the events in a classroom. We can certainly have a toolkit of skills and strategies ready to be used, but believing this will save us from potential failure at times is foolish. We must accept that taking risks will promote big possibilities but might not work out as planned.

Solutions/practical application:

  • Try to be flexible, because it is impractical to think you can prepare for everything.
  • Take risks, you never know when one will turn into a turning point in a child’s life
  • Be mindful of teachable moments and use them to your advantage.
  • Understand that life is messy and uncertain; you can’t plan for everything and nor should you. Relish in the mess, if you can.

Since we can’t prepare for everything, what tools do you have to be ready for the unexpected? Please share

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