You rush off ten minutes after dismissal on Friday and drive across three states, beginning a weekend of much activity and little sleep. When you get out of bed on Monday morning, it’s an hour before your first class starts. As students start entering the classroom, you’re still chewing a granola bar, hoping nobody looks at your hair too closely and wondering if you can plan your English class in the time it will take for the copier to print the science worksheets.
If this hasn’t happened to you yet, it surely will. There will be overbooked weekends, flat tires, inopportune phone calls, missed alarms, forgotten obligations, unexpected visitors, emergency room visits, schedule mix-ups, food poisoning—a cornucopia of calamities will sometimes force you to wing it. But in the certainty of the problem lies its solution. Since you know it will happen, you can plan for it.
Step 1: Cultivate order.
When the bell rings as you scurry back from the copier and gulp down the last of your granola bar’s half-chewed oatmeal flecks, you’ll be glad to settle into a well-established morning routine. When you need the teacher’s guide right now, you’ll be glad it’s on the shelf where it’s supposed to be. When a student throws up and you don’t know how long it will be until class can resume, you’ll be glad to be able to say, “I think we’ll have study hall for the next several minutes” with confidence that students know the study hall procedures and will follow them. The more you have cultivated order, the easier it will be to work through unexpected situations. It’s the difference between filling in a form and creating a document from scratch.
Order will prevent many of these difficulties from arising in the first place. When something causes chaos, ask yourself if you could have done something to prevent it or lessen its effects— maybe by planning ahead for a hectic weekend, for example. As a fundamentally disorderly person, I’ve had many uncomfortable moments of reflection along these lines, benefitting to the degree that I’ve mended my ways.
Step 2: Know what you’re up against.
You can’t wing it without knowing which it you’re supposed to wing. Familiarity with the day’s schedule and knowledge of each class’s agenda is vital. Referring to Step 1, make a habit of planning classes in advance, even if it’s only on the most rudimentary level. Our administrator asks the teachers at my school to submit a rough outline of each week’s lesson plans in advance. This has been a good discipline for me, ensuring that I can always know at a glance where I am and where I’m going in each of my classes.
Step 3: Have some tricks up your sleeve.
Become familiar with a few activities that can be easily adapted to nearly any class and that you can launch into with little or no preparation. Work on them during normal school days and make sure that they are productive and not just time-fillers. A good review game, for example, can be whipped out quickly to serve an important function. My go-to tricks are posters and drawing exercises. I keep poster board, markers, and other materials handy and on a moment’s notice I can get my students to draw a timeline, make a chart, or illustrate a concept.
Step 4: Divide and conquer.
The day of calamity has arrived. Take a look at your schedule and those lesson plan outlines. As you review the main topic or activity of each class, prioritize your planning according to time available and time needed. Distinguish what must be done from what you can let go, and what must be done now from what you can do later. Bible? Something about Judges, hmmm. Math? It’s multiplying fractions today, I can figure that out on the fly. Science? Newton’s laws of motion. Uh-oh, I only sort of remember those. I’ll have to take a look at that. Language? Test today. If they’re not already ripped out, it won’t be the end of the world if I’m finishing that when the period begins. History? I’ll figure it out while they’re taking their language tests. Afternoon classes? Worry about them during lunch. Okay, so right now I need to figure out Bible and science.
It might not be a great day, but it can be a productive day. You can plan for the unexpected, as paradoxical as that may be, and face unfortunate circumstances with confidence.
CONTRIBUTOR: Peter Goertzen