I must finally confess to the world and to myself that I hate doing housework. I can’t stand dusting, sweeping, ironing, vacuuming, mopping floors, cleaning bathrooms or changing bed sheets, and I suffer when I have to do anything ‘agricultural’ in the garden, such as weeding. My list of unpopular household chores is endless. I basically envy three groups of people: those who don’t care about untidiness, those who do housework regularly and happily, and those who don’t have to do it. Unfortunately, as I don’t have a housemaid or an assistant of any kind, I must do all the chores on my own. Naturally, I feel frustrated when there’s a heap of dirty socks (believe me, five pairs of feet do make a heap very quickly).
My frustration reaches its peak when I come home from a holiday and see the loads of housework ahead of me – the chores that I had left behind undone, the jobs that didn’t get done when I was away, and even more tasks that I’ve voluntarily brought home from the holiday. It’s the time when I start thinking about planning, and I set myself goals and objectives: By the end of the week all the laundry will have been washed, the floors will have been mopped up and the carpets vacuumed, and the windows will have been cleaned.
I’ve admitted many times on this blog and elsewhere that I don’t like planning, especially the long-term kind. It simply stresses me out. I love living in the present moment and I solve what needs to be solved on the spot, creatively and intuitively. Well, the truth is that I’m not very good at planning and setting myself goals, which may be one of the reasons for my aversion and all my excuses. But there are times, in my personal as well as my professional life, when I realize that the act of planning itself brings peace and comfort. It evokes an atmosphere of safety and a feeling of system and structure. Anyway, while pondering my reluctance towards housework, it occurred to me that if planning to achieve goals each at a time has such a calming effect for me as a housewife, it must be similar in a teaching context. By the way, I really liked the Master Household Chore List, which gave me a few ideas for planning in general, such as the need for cooperation and distribution of tasks, or the idea that big goals always need to be broken down into small ones if we want them to have the desired soothing effect and efficiency. And I love this Household Chores Checklist idea which can be easily applied to any classroom environment, even as an L2 classroom activity. It’s amusing that I see potential classroom activities wherever I look.
So is the need for safety the reason why we make thorough lesson plans? Is it why we create curricula? Obviously, one of the aims of the national curriculum, for example, is to show us the direction. The expected outcomes of our teaching and students’ learning are clearly stated so that we get familiar with the ultimate goals of education. But to me they are more than that – they’re actually the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s up to individual schools and us teachers to plan the way through the tunnel, breaking it into small stretches to make things more feasible. This creative and cooperative process of planning makes us feel involved and as a result we feel much safer even before we set off.
But planning is useful even in case the plans finally fall through. Even if things don’t go according to plan, we know where we are at each stage and we can check the deviation against the original aim. We can decide whether it’s better to get back on track or whether we can afford a short detour. Sometimes it’s good to return, reset and start anew.
However, it’s necessary to have meaningful plans in mind and set ourselves reasonable objectives. Sadly enough, sometimes we are encouraged to make plans for the inspecting bodies or the administrators. These plans have been manipulated and distorted to look meaningful but in fact they are totally useless; they are worthless documents occupying the precious hard disc space. What’s more, the process of making such plans is far from involving; it’s irritating and often time-consuming.
I believe that teachers should be offered the choice very early in their profession – the choice to plan or not to plan. Sooner or later they’ll discover that it’s better to make some sort of plans but until then they should be free to find their own way. The requirement of teacher training programmes for detailed, minute-by-minute lesson planning seems ridiculous to me. This is not the way we plan in life – at least not all of us. This kind of planning is not comforting but frustrating, especially if we are novices in the teaching profession unable to improvise if something goes wrong. Based on my own experience, the more detailed the plan is, the more can go amiss during the actual lesson. I remember, when much younger, I was able to create thorough lesson plans but ironically, when somebody asked me what my long-term objectives were, I was lost. So most importantly, young teachers should be trained to look far ahead. They’re often encouraged to see just the fragments, not the whole picture; they are turned into skilful ‘classroom managers’ with blurred or no vision of the light at the end of the tunnel. If this approach changes, I believe we will eventually all grow fond of planning and our teaching will become more meaningful and effective right from the start.