We, teachers, like to plan our lessons to the tiniest detail because they say that an hour of planning can save you ten hours of doing. But life and teaching aren’t just about plans – they’re about results, too. So in addition to punctilious planning, we set goals and expect certain outcomes.
That said, regardless of how meticulously we plan or how much we expect, and what specific bits of knowledge we aim to pass on to our students, every student’s takeaway and experience of that lesson will eventually be unique. I mean, each lesson plan, whether on paper or just in our heads, is in effect lifeless. It is through student engagement that it is finally brought to life. When this happens, our students have an experience. As a result, their experience, and particularly their reaction stemming from that experience, may bring about unexpected twists and can even create some new experience we didn’t even imagine it would. In other words, how each student responds to our lesson changes and/or enriches the original plan (or it may well shatter it to pieces) and subsequently affects the experience of others in the classroom, including the teacher.
Obviously, this is something you can’t fully control and predict. If you are an experienced teacher, you know all too well that you need to be prepared for this. But that’s all you can do about it – be ready.
Let’s say that at some point in the lesson, you plan to ask a really intriguing question. You believe it will trigger an interesting debate which will be a springboard for another activity. In your lesson plan, you note down that this debate should last for 5 minutes max. You ask that question. You wait. Silence… You wonder what’s going on in all those little heads. You wonder what the students are experiencing right now; is it embarrassment, boredom, or are they just being shy? Maybe it’s a difficult question and they are thinking about it. To avoid more potential awkwardness, you decide to step in. And here comes the twist you didn’t plan for; you say: “Ok, tell your partner first and then we’ll share some of your ideas together as a class”. Surprisingly, the students start chatting away immediately. It’s been more than 5 minutes now. You should stop them but it seems they are experiencing a lot of excitement. This makes you feel excited too. It’s a good feeling to see that they are fully engaged. It makes you want to keep them in that state a bit longer. You’re weighing your options. While monitoring and pretending that everything is going according to plan, you are experiencing a bit of indecisiveness. It’s somewhat uncomfortable. This discomfort makes you want to get back that good feeling of flow. “What should I do next?” You have a plan to follow and objectives to meet …
The above example clearly illustrates that it’s not just the plan and your expectations that will determine the course and quality of the lesson; it’s all the imperceptible, unexpected and unpredictable that happens on the spot which to a great extent shapes your students’ learning experience and the outcomes. All this uncertainty is not for the faint of heart; it may cause anxiety and concern, especially if you are a novice teacher. But, it’s exciting too. After all, teaching is an adventurous job. Nothing is permanent; everything changes and you are constantly pushed out of your comfort zone by some invisible, intangible forces. All this gradually makes you better and better prepared for what comes next.