The Worst Class I have Ever Taught… So What?

Today I taught what I (now) feel might have been the worst class I have ever taught in nearly 20 years of ELT.

To add to it (or just because Murphy loves me…) I was being observed by my school’s pedagogical coordinator. I was observed because it is part of our routine, to be formally observed. But first and foremost I was being observed because I had asked to. It has been a while since I have last taught beginner adults and I wanted to make sure I was doing it right.

It was all fine in the beginning. I got the students to stand in a circle, talk about how they were feeling, practice new chunks of language…

And then…. Booom!!!! Disaster hits! The Power Point I had prepared as an activity to last 20 minutes – and be the lead for the rest of the class – didn’t work.  What??!?!

What do you do when something like this happens? You improvise, you tap from the pool of activities and knowledge you have built over the last (nearly) 20 years, right? Right!!!

What if your mind goes blank?

Because that’s what happened to me. Despite having taught the present simple countless times, and this being a revision, I panicked.  I couldn’t think of what to do. Frustration took over for a minute or two and I didn’t know what to do next. Within a few minutes I managed something, let go of the PowerPoint which had taken me an hour to do, and moved on. I drew a smiley face and a sad face on the board and wrote things I liked / didn’t like to do. And I moved on from there, got students talking, monitored… But still I feel like I fell short. And you know what?

I did. I feel I fell short and I know I could have done better. And that makes all the difference,

We all have bad days, don’t we? Maybe it was the frustration of having  thing go wrong, maybe it was the fact I was being observed that made me nervous… I just wasn’t myself. But it worked. And I feel the students learned. So why am I writing about this?

Because most teachers are terrified of being observed. They feel their job (or life) depends on every move they make, every activity they do – especially when being observed. But surprisingly enough, I didn’t.

I was upset (to say the least) the class hadn’t work the way as planned. I knew it wasn’t the kind of class I’m used to teaching. But it was all fine. No nervousness, no anxiety. I just want her (the coordinator) to observe me again in the same class.

Now… a few years ago, being observed in such a lesson would have devastated me. It would have made me crumble and question my abilities as a teacher. But tonight, it didn’t. And I left the room feeling ok, and analizing the lesson so as to think of what could I have done differently / better? I didn’t feel I was a bad teacher, or incapable. I was frustrated, yes, but that was not as important.

So what has changed? Is it me or the classroom? Is it my self-confidence as a teacher? Does having 20 years under my belt make a difference? Should it? Is experience in the classroom THAT important? Or is confidence more important? Or, even more complicated, are experience and self-confidence  so tightly related?

I’d really like to know what you think, and hear about your worst classes.

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85 comments on “The Worst Class I have Ever Taught… So What?

  1. Not sure if this is my absolute worst class, but it’s up there….

    I was working with a group of older elementary school children. They had been working with conditional statements, and I thought I’d make the lesson more fun by playing a “What if?” game.

    It was a long time ago, but I remember the lesson going something like this:

    Me: If you were an animal, which animal would you be?
    Student: No. I’m not animal.
    Me: If you WERE an animal….you aren’t really going to be an animal.
    Student. I’m girl. Not animal.
    Me: (pointing to self) If I were an animal, I’d be a tiger. What about you?
    Student: Please. Don’t make me tiger.

    I should have cut my losses and pulled out another activity at that point, but nooooooo, I kept thinking one of the students would “get” it and then we’d be fine. No one ever got it and I almost had the students in tears (afraid that I would turn them into animals?).

    Sigh :)

    You’re right. We all have those days.

  2. Laura Green says:

    Hi Cecilia
    I know myself if a lesson is a good one. They don’t always go to plan but I know if the students have learned and if it has been enjoyable. Experience has taught me that they can’t be good all of the time, regardless of how much effort I put in. To me being observed is very much subjective.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for your comment!

      I agree with you. I think most times (with rare exceptions) we know if the students have learned or not. I had a feeling the students had learned some – but not as much as I had planned. But, as you said, our classes can’t be good all the time. And in a way I think that’s good, because it prevents us from being too comfortable and staying put. It makes us remember we are human and need to be in constant change and improvement :-)

  3. Great post, Ceci. I love Barb’s story too, hilarious (though probably not at the time).

    I can think of some embarrassing cultural misfires..such as on my CTEFLA in Cairo when I asked the (Muslim) students what they were going to do at Christmas…my tutor actually banged his head on the desk!

    Or when I did a lesson on birth order with a group of Chinese students (none of them had any siblings).

    Or my DTEFLA observed lesson where the students were supposed to bring family photos and NONE of them did..

    Teaching is such an interpersonal experience that when it goes well, you feel real joy, and when it goes badly, it feels pretty awful. How much better is that than a job where you feel nothing? But, I think experience does build confidence that, while that particular lesson may not have gone as you wanted, it doesn’t mean you aren’t just as good at your job as you were yesterday.

    • Wow! thanks for sharing those, Rachael! I can see you cringing as your tutor banged his head on the desk! It reminds me of a quote by George Burns that says “I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate”. But I think you’re right about experience. Having taught other classes that didn’t go well, I know it’s not the end of the world, and that great classes will be taught again :-)

  4. DaveDodgson says:

    The dropped baton, the service into the net, the open goal somehow missed, the stumbled landing – they happen to us all every so often, even the seasoned pros (you’d never guess I’d been watching Olympic sports recently, would you? ;))

    The fact is these things happen, even with years of experience, high confidence and back-up plans in case of tech failure, and we just have to move on.

    Despite your calm reaction to it all, I wonder if the observer had an effect even if you didn’t notice it at the time. A colleague of mine had a nightmare observation last year when trying out dictogloss with a class for the first time (at my suggestion as it happens). He said one group of kids hadn’t grasped the idea and for some unknown reason, he stopped the entire class and explained it all again, only serving to confuse the kids who had already got started. Any other time, he would have let the other groups get on with it and focused solely on the kids that needed extra help but he felt that with an observer in class, he should make a show of ensuring that all the students were following.

    Perhaps without the observer, you may have felt more relaxed about doing something unplanned or completely different. Do you think that made you hesitate? Or have I dipped for the line too early thus missing out on the medals? ;)

    • You, watching the Olympics??? I would never have guessed! ;-)

      But I think you’re right when you say being observed had an impact… I believe had I not been observed probably wouldn’t have blanked after things went wrong. You have not dipped for the line too early!:) And then, two questions come to mind: why do we get so nervous when being observed (if you work at a school, like mine, where observation does not get you fired)? And why did I have such a calm reaction? Would I have had it 10 years ago? I don’t think so….

      Is experience such a ground-breaker?

  5. Ι think they go in a circle, experience and self-confidence. You build up your self-confidence through the years you teach in a class, through good days and of course bad days. And on the same time your experience helps you build up your confidence because your mind works improvising in difficult situations more easily and in a variety of ways than your early days of teaching.
    It’s the circle of a teacher’s life.

    I remember once I prepared a test for my students and after photocopying it I gave it to them. But they told me there was nothing written on the paper. When I looked I saw that there was actually nothing on the paper because the photocopier hadn’t actually “burned” the copies, so the students wiped the lines with a tissue.Since I had nothing else prepared to give them and them having no books, I decided to write a few exercises on the white board. Then came disaster because I hadn’t noticed and used a NON white board pen, so after having written throuout the board, I realised I couldn’t wipe it out and continue. I felt so rediculous, the students couldn’t help laughing and they had 2 excersises for the test.
    I was devastated but from then on, I always go to class with a plan B in mind, sometimes even C

    • Thanks for sharing and commenting, Eleni. The story you shared sounds like a real nightmare. I was wondering whether experience played such a hig role in not feeling as bad when / if things go wrong… I guess it does.

      Plan B and plan C are a must!

  6. marisapavan says:

    Ceci:

    Thanks for sharing what you feel was \’your worst class ever,\’ which I don\’t think was as bad. That shows we, teachers, are not robots. We have good or bad days, days when we feel inspired and days we don\’t.

    Anyway, I think experience and self confidence are important when these things happen.

    I remember when I started teaching over 20 years ago I depended so much on the plans I prepared for the classes whereas now I plan classes on my head or perhaps write some notes on the coursebooks and change things while teaching according to the students\’ reactions or suddenly I feel inspired to make students do a certain task I hadn\’t thought of doing.

    It was your experience as a teacher that has helped you self-assess your performance and draw those conclusions.

    Hugs,
    Marisa

    • Hey Marisa,

      My feeling that that has been my worst class ever is mainly due to my panicking when things went wrong and the Powerpoint not working. It’s not like that was the first time something like that had happened to me, but it was the first time I didn’t know what to do and froze. The present simple presentation I gave after that did not work the way I’d want it to (I remember I kept searching and searching in my mind for ways I had done it in the 20 years I’ve been teaching and I couldn’t remember a single one!). What caused me to panic? Was it the fact I was being observed? I don’t think so – or at least it shouldn’t. I had asked for the observation, to have an outside look at a few things I was not certain regarding my teaching this specific group. The observer is the school’s pedagogical coordinator, but not only she is someone who believes class observation is a helping tool for teachers (not a threat or “your job depends on it” evaluation) and that knows what teaching is all about. She is also a dear friend of mine, who has observed me before and who knows who I am as a person and as a teacher. So I wasn’t (consciously at least) nervous she was there.

      The other thing that struck me was how calm I was afterwards and how I could look back at what had happened very “coldly” and raise the main points that had gone wrong and how I could have avoided / fixed them. I agree with you that experience helped me do that, but why now? I mean, I have been an experienced teacher for a while and I strongly believe my reaction to what happened would have been very different a couple of years ago. I also believe being confident about being a good teacher was a key element in the whole situation. And that self-confidence many times comes with experience.

      Yet, I can’t put my finger at what exactly changed in me, or when that happened – or even why it did. I think it would be interesting to find that out.

      Hugs!

  7. Hi Ceci and all of you there.

    I feel humbled by the idea of sharing my experience with so many talented and experienced professionals on this forum.

    I’ve been a professional teacher not long ago. I’ve taught here and there, on different occasions ans circumstances but I’ve loved every minute of this new experience since I started teaching on a steady basis.

    I’ve had my share of bad classes, of course, a lot of them actually, since my experience is not as vast as yours. I remember a situation in which I was being observed by both the coordinator and the school principal. To make a long story short, everything I had prepared for my phrasal verbs class went downhill when I asked some mid-class students, with some decent lives, if they had any problems to share with each other to get a conversation started. Since all we could hear was the wind blowing through the window, I panicked and looked at both the coordinator and the principal’s faces and started to sweat like an exorcist. It didn’t matter whether i had a class plan or not, I just froze on the spot and couldn’t do anything else. Well I jumped on the Teacher’s book and followed the suggested script and finished my class at least half a pound lighter from all the sweating.

    Nowadays, I’ve been observed many times, and I don’t feel as bad, even when things don’t work the way I planned. Last time i had a feedback session with one of my colleagues after being observed, my heart was still pounding and I was a little anxious but when you believe that the observer is actually there to help you improve your performance, you feel much more relieved.

    I’m far away from being a great teacher, but, plan B and C are my best friends.

    • Hi Heber,

      It sounds like you and I had very similar reactions :-/ It’s awful to just freeze when things go wrong, isn’t it? The image that comes to mind is one of a cat, frozen as headlights come straight at them.

      Thanks for sharing your (sweaty) bad class :-)

      Cheers!

  8. Nati says:

    Hey Ceci,

    I read your comments, Barb’s and everyone’s and I can clearly think of one of my students who complained about having to discuss things like: what can we do to prevent bad breath? or all the silly topics that appear in texts before reading or listening… I tried to explain why we did it, and talk about schemata theory but she looked at me as if I was the silliest girl on earth, and she’s a lawyer, so I just felt devastated at the beginning of the lesson and what came afterwards was probably a disaster!
    I’ve been going over that lesson again and again in my mind, and I think that if that happened to me now, I’d ask the student how she would like to go about it.
    Thanks for sharing this, It’s a pleasure to see people sharing lessons to work on rather than recipes for the perfect lessons!
    Catarsis time!
    Thnks!
    Nati

    • Hi Nati,

      I can see how you felt “thrown off” by your student’s look and how that in the beginning of a class can (if we allow it to) shake you so much that you just lose balance and can’t really steady yourself again until it’s over. A bit of a vicious cycle, I think. You get nervous then things go wrong because you’re nervous, then you get even more nervous because things are going wrong, and on and on… Why does it sometimes happen and it doesn’t at others? Because I’m sure there were other times where a student looked at you like that and you just let it go, not really caring. Are we just more susceptible to students’ reactions and feedback at times?

      Something that your comment made me think of was the activity that prompted the awkward moment you shared: “or all the silly topics that appear in texts before reading or listening…”. I think (or I’d like to think) as I gathered self-confidence (and experience) I have approached those topics more through “critical thinking” and have been better at deciding whether to use them (whether they were suitable/relevant/”relatable” to my students) or adapt them to what I believe is my students’ benefit. And this reflection took me back to the same word: self-confidence. I think it takes a self-confident teacher to make changes to the material she is given to teach.

      But how do we reach that self-confidence? Is it (necessarily) though experience? Or there’s no formula?

      Anyway, thanks for your sharing and comment. I love comment threads like this, that just make me think more :-)

      Hugs :-)

  9. Guido says:

    Hello there,

    I believe (not in order):

    I can fly,
    we all need a plan B,
    observers make lessons worse,
    teaching unfamiliar levels is challenging,
    experience creates confidence,
    we always need to think on our feet (or when seated),
    minds will go blank,
    students create meaning from anything really,
    powerpoint sucks,
    things can always get worse, …

    like when I allowed my young teens to use my pens to draw on the whiteboard while I was correcting some tests or something (my back turned to the board, of course) and one of them got hold of a permanent marker (hello Eleni) to write just one recently acquired item of vocabulary in huge letters all over the board, managing also to squeeze in a drawing of someone who eerily looked like his teacher: DICKHEAD … and then you feel like one!

    DH.

    • Dear DH,

      Thank you for making me literally laugh out loud, even if I am reading your comment for the third time. ;-)

      Ah! And I agree with every single item in your list, also in no particular order, but rather a continuously shifting order.

      Next time a student does that, my advice to you is: draw a “Salvador Dali-esk” moustache on his/her face with the same permanent marker ;-)

      Beijo!

  10. Alexandra says:

    Cecilia,

    thank you for sharing your awkward moment with us for it’s our mistakes and slips that we learn best from.

    I remember the lesson that had almost been ruined. I was teaching an Upper-intermediate group of university students, and on that day I wanted to introduce a new topic of euthanasia by showing a movie Sea Inside. I couldn’t think of a better lead-in for the topic.

    As a rule, I check in advance all the audio and video recordings I’m going to use in class. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that with that particular CD because my computer was down at that time. So I was reassuring myself that everything would go fine because the CD was bought in the UK. But I should have thought twice.

    Everything started to go wrong with the CD recorder which wouldn’t work. All my students were helping me to start it. We wasted good 15 minutes of the lesson fixing this problem and were very happy when the recorder finally showed the signs of life. Now everybody was ready to watch the movie because I had already whetted their appetite for the film. But then something horrible happened.

    The movie was in Spanish even without English subtitles!!!

    I can’t describe my terror! I was so ashamed and frustrated. I started mumbling some apologies explaining why I hadn’t checked the CD before the class. I should say my students were very understanding and sympathetic with me though they were naturally upset.

    What saved the situation from the complete and uttermost failure was my hand-outs on euthanasia I had prepared in advance for the next lesson and which I had taken with me just in case. So the rest of the class went well though the beginning was badly spoilt.

    So I think that our plans B and even C, our experience and self-confidence are our life-savers! But there is one more thing that can always be a good help to both seasoned professionals and early career teachers. This is a good sense of humour! No matter how ridiculous or awkward a situation in class can be it can always be turned into a laugh or a joke! It will take away the anxiety and frustration and bring in a relief and a better rapport with your students. Laugh with your students and everything will go fine and smoothly!

    Best wishes,
    Alexandra

    • You’re absolutely right about keeping a good sense of humour no matter what, Alexandra. If we make a big deal out of it so will our students. Students tend to “mimic” our emotions and how we handle things – very much like our kids do. So keep calm (even if you don’t feel calm, fake it! ;-)) and move on, improvise, go unplugged…

      Don’t we keep telling our students when taking a listening test to let it go if they miss something (because worrying about what they missed will ruin the rest of the test for them)? So why do we get hung up when something goes wrong in our classes?

      And I do the “mea culpa” here!

      Thanks for sharing your awkward moment too! Knowing we all have those moments and we all are here to tell them (and still teaching!) is very comforting :-)

  11. Di says:

    Hi Alexandra
    You didn’t WASTE 15 minutes repairing the recorder because you and your students spent those minutes talking in English about what the problem was and how to remedy it, surely? And if the movie was in a foreign language you asked your students to guess what was happening on the soundtrack and talk about it in English, didn’t you?

    There’a a word for this kind of making-whatever-happens-into-a-teaching-resource, I forget what?

    Recently I started my Beginners class only to see that (unknown to me) the old chalk blackboard had been removed and the new wipeable whiteboard had not yet been unpacked and assembled. I didn’t want to teach without any kind of board (although it would have been possible, I suppose) and so three members of the class assembled the board and we tried to talk in English about what was happening I didn’t think that this time was wasted, either.

    BTW I think you are very brave to discuss a taboo topic like euthanasia in an English class!
    Di

    • Alexandra says:

      Di! Thank you for the comment! :)

      Yes, I think you’re right we didn’t waste those 15 minutes. But the beginning of the lesson had been somewhat crumpled because I had already made a lead-in to the topic and they were earger to watch the movie immediately which didn’t happen. And as I’m sure you know well such unpredictable delays tend to dampen the initial interest.

      As for the topic itself, I’m very careful with choosing topics and the audience I can discuss them with. That was the group of university students who are all adults and who were one of the most intelligent group I have ever taught. They enjoyed reflecting on “adult” philosophical issues, sharing opinions, and trying to reach some consensus. They were always considerate and respectful of other points of view and they never slipped into exchanging abuse. In fact they were grateful to me for touching upon such topics in our lessons. Otherwise they would have been bored to death having to talk about food or travel.

      No doubt, a teacher should be able to think on their feet and turn any situation into a learning opportunity, let alone to be very careful with choosing topics for discussion.

      Best wishes,
      Alexandra

    • You raise a very important point here, Di: it wasn’t wasted time because the students were being exposed to and used English. what’s more, in an authentic situation! I like that! I believe the word you’re looking for is teaching unplugged, or dogme :-)

      Cheers!

      • Di says:

        Yes, Cecilia, “unplugged” is the word I was looking for. Thanks for reminding me!
        There’s another kind of “unplugged” which is more common than many teachers would admit – it is when they haven’t found time to prepare a lesson at all and just go into the classroom and hope someone will say or do something that will turn into a learning (or rather, teaching) opportunity. For this to work you must have YEARS of experience and all sorts of activities up your sleeve, I think (or the course book is better than most of them are ;-) ).
        However, many (and not only NNS) teachers aren’t confident enough for this sort of open stimulus,because they prefer to have prepared the topic in advance, I can understand that.

        I was imagining what would happen in my conversation class if suddently the topic of euthanasia came up (i.e. because someone had heard about the recent locked-in court case). I think even though I am a NS of BE I would not have all the vocabulary at my fingertips unless I had read it up in advance.
        What do you say to this, Alexandra? BTW I think it is wonderful that you have a group of students with whom you can discuss this type of thing. You are lucky!

      • I have often had that second kind of unplugged, Di, and thoroughly enjoyed it :) However I am still unsure to whether in order to pull it through you need experience under your belt – or just plain confidence.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  12. Nelly Kostova says:

    HI,

    There will probably be nothing new in my response and I’m not an English teacher – most of the timeI teach Biology in English – but I don’t think that the experience of being observed is much different. After about the same years of experience as a teacher I still get nervous every time I have other people in the classroom- I can do nothing about it because it’s a physical reaction. I know it will happen and I am no more scared of it, I know that once I start the lesson it will soon be gone except for the dry mouth. But not in the beginning.

    That time I was going to be observed by the inspector from the city council. I planed it so carefully, almost to the lines of the students. I choose an interesting approach which was based on close participation of the class. The lesson plan was just as they wanted it – everything was in place, visual materials and so on. The only things I didn’t take in consideration were my stage fright and the fact that one of the three 6 grader classes was not as able as the other two (and I didn’t know which of them would be the one observed).

    As bad luck would have it – that class was exactly the one to be chosen for observation. You can imagine how difficult it was, moreover that the students were experiencing their worst day too, plus they were obviously quite scared of the principal and the inspector at the same time in their lesson. They were constantly giving me wrong answers or such having nothing to do with the topic. I was constantly trying to bend the lesson back to the way it was planned and it constantly was trying to go in a different way. Instead of calming down gradually I was getting more and more apprehensive, in the end of the lesson my mouth was completely dry and my voice was screeching like a rusty grate.. Somehow I finished and amazingly weren’t told off – the only remark was that many of the answers were given by me and probably with such students I should try something easier. But I was burning inside and would have fired myself just the minute the lesson had finished if I had the authority.

    Now I know that not all lessons can be as nice as we plan them. That even the most carefully organised one can flop. Now I know that when the class cannot cope with the difficulty you immediately should change the approach, and sometimes even drop the topic altogether – when something else occupies their minds and they want to talk about it (amazingly no one provides such time in our -Bulgarian- system). The worst thing that can happen to me in class is to lose the feeling about the overall emotion in the class – the best guide that tells me when I should leave some difficult matter and switch to something more accessible, when I’m going to lose their attention to include some different activity. As a whole – there are no two lessons which are the same even if I have to repeat the topic thrice in a row.

    So in my view the answer is “yes” – the self-confidence of a teacher comes with their experience.

    Best wishes,

    Nelly

    • Hi Nelly,

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. While I was reading it a few things came to mind. The first is how I could see myself in your words when you told that the one group that wasn’t as able as the others was the one that you were observed at. I always feel Murphy’s Law is hovering over me :-P

      Something else was that struck me how critical you were of yourself and the lesson (“would have fired myself just the minute the lesson had finished if I had the authority”). My pedagogical coordinator was surprised to hear from me I thought that had been the worst lesson I have ever taught. She said she hadn’t thought it was as bad. Are all of us teachers so hard on ourselves, so critical of our own work? I wonder… Because by reading what you wrote I can see how awful it was, but I can also see it wasn’t really your fault. But then again, many people have said the same thing about the lesson I described.

      It made me think.

      Thanks for the sharing, the comment and the answer to my question… I’m starting to think self-confidence is indeed directly related to experience – with a few rare exceptions maybe :-))

      Cheers!

  13. anahit says:

    I am sure that confidence is too important and also experience because the lessons aren’t always go to plan and we must do something immediately.

  14. Great to hear that though you panicked and your mind went blank, you ended up leaving the class feeling OK. Being observed does cause many people to panic, but I think they also should tell themselves that though the observer may have more clout in the organisation and give feedback about what was seen, they are also compassionate teachers (often) and can recognise factors contributing to what you said and what you did.

    People are often hardest on themselves. Observers aren’t the fire-button-happy ogres they are made out to be. ;) I’d say two future posts can come out of this: 1) my worst class experience, 2) the purpose of observation.

    • Hmmmm….. I am just not so sure about observers often being compassionate teachers. Maybe this is coming out of previous bad experiences I have had with observation (at other school I worked at). Sometimes they are told (taught/trained) to look for flaws and things you do wrong. And that is soooo the wrong approach.

      Since I have done the first future post you mentioned, I’ll take the second one ;-)

      And BTW, despite it being the disaster it was (at least for me), my leaving the room feeling OK was such a fantastic, empowering feeling. Maybe I have developed some self-confidence after all ;-)

  15. Thanks for sharing this Tyson, it’s refreshing to see this subject discussed. I think many educators put themselves under enormous pressure when being observed … I know I do. Teaching is not a ‘one take’ performance, I think the longer we teach the better we understand this.

  16. What great stories! Of course, we all have those moments. At the time, it feels so awful! The observation, the mind gone blank, the moment of terror, the equipment failure, the lack of preparation, the wrong information; and we learn from them all.

    What strikes me as funny is that our students go through the same things…the same fears, self-doubts, moments of panic, technology malfunctions, moments of utter confusion, and frozen legs and frozen tongues, and we patiently encourage them, wait for them, try desperately to help them to above all….JUST KEEP GOING!

    And yet, we put such high demands on ourselves. We expect that we should always have the answers! We should always have perfectly prepared lessons! We should always have PowerPoints that work, CD’s that don’t skip, photocopies that don’t have lines running through them, whiteboards markers that never run dry, extra backup activities (for that last 10 minutes), and perfect, unfaltering grammar knowledge so that every last detailed little question can be answered with confidence because “I. Am. The. Teacher!!!”

    Our observers might point out those prickly points, but that’s why we invited them in, isn’t it? By reviewing the class together, we can find out where our mistakes are, find solutions, and move on. Why should we expect our students to submit to this on a daily basis, and yet, not us?

    We need to allow ourselves to make the same mistakes as our students. When they make mistakes, we say “It’s good for you! That’s how you learn!” We need to remember that the same goes for us. That’s how we learn too!

  17. Perfect. Reply.

    Thanks for that, Rona. It says all I’ve been feeling sums up how I feel about observation. How we put absurdly high demands on ourselves. What is (or should be) the core reason for observation. And how we keep telling our students mistakes are ok, just keep going and learn from them and yet, we have such a hard time to admit we make mistakes too.

    Thank you. Best comment to end my night.
    Cheers!

  18. What a wonderful blog post and thank you for sharing this. As teachers we have all been there and I remember being observed early in my teaching career in the UK. It was quite honestly the worst lesson that I have ever taught in my life. Everything fell flat and all my activities didn’t work. This was about four years ago but I have learnt a lot from the experience.

    Anyhow, the last time that I felt rather unhappy about a class was something that I prepared one time at the BC in Bucharest and I was trialling “English Unlimited”. My blog post has further information about it (http://www.eltexperiences.com/2012/04/whats-best-approach.html). I was even more confused by the learners’ requests as they mentioned they wanted more grammar yet more opportunities for speaking. I requested what they had learnt during the lesson and they were able to demonstrate what they had acquired but they were still unhappy. In the end, I was observed and told, “You need to be more explicit” by the observer. I personally questioned the appropriateness of being explicit and prescriptive and decided to change my lessons. It was the only class that I had difficulty with and all the other classes were happy with my lessons.

    I suppose as teachers, or most teachers, we strive for perfection and then beat ourselves up when things fall apart or fail in class. I guess this is a quality that should be supported. Personally, you learn a lot more from failure than from success.

    • You’re right when you say sat that teachers strive for perfection, Martin… All the teachers (real teachers, the one’s with the “calling”) I’ve met throughout my life were perfectionists, especially when it came to their lessons. But we all have “not-so-perfect” days, right? When things don’t happen the way we expect all we can do is learn from it and trust our ability of teaching.

  19. Adam Simpson says:

    One thing that has often worked for me is to simply work through the problem with the learners; they are often able to fix the problem and can even see this as a way of gaining status among their peers. Alternatively, ask them how they wish to proceed with the class and go with it from there.

  20. Nice post, Cecilia! I always get inspired by your posts or tweets… Tks!
    About this class you mentioned, I was wondering: how was your coordinator’s feedback? I’ve been observing some peers, and sometimes they come to me saying they know it was a terrible class. What happens is, in a lot of situations, I didn’t have the same feeling. As you said, maybe we are too hard on ourselves. But, then, is it bad? I realize the most effective teachers are the most self-critical. When I ask great teachers to do a self-assessment, they surprise me with low grades. So, maybe you felt bad because things didn’t happen according to your plans, but… so what? Maybe the observer felt you could find a great way out! Have you talked to her?

    • Hi carol,

      The coordinator’s feedback was good. She knows things go wrong and she says she could see I had rapport with the group and that they learned something. One thing she pointed out that made me think was that they probably lacked strategies. Learning strategies. And I think she was right, so I’ve been working on building some of those ;)

      And yes, I think we are (many times) too hard on ourselves… but that’s innate, methinks.

      Cheers,

      Ceci

  21. santigaor says:

    Come on Ceci! it was just one class… you don`t want to know how many I have failed…lol

  22. [...] Gurr (2012) – Classroom Observation 2 (2012) Cecilia Lemos (2012) – The worst class I have ever taught…so what? (2012) Han-Min Tsai (2008) - Improving an EFL class: starting from classroom [...]

  23. Kerri says:

    Cecilia,

    What an amazing post, and certainly, I imagine, very humbling for you. I have followed you (although lately not as religiously due to graduate classes and teaching at two different Universities) however, as an ESL teacher of two years, you have no idea how much I appreciate this post! I was observed last week and the technology failed also (I was told I handled that part very well). However, the lesson itself was a lesson that did not go well. It was a jigsaw reading lesson and apparently the students are used to all of the other Professors (following the book) and although the premise of the lesson was wonderful ( I adapted it from Jeremy Harmer so I cannot take full credit), when the students started to look confused – I panicked a bit. The end result was a good one – the head of the department realizes the students needs more communicative approached lessons and I learned not to take students emotions on personally. However, I walked out feeling as if I had disappointed the students and myself. I have to realize NOT every day will be a perfect day and, in fact, it may be quite the opposite. I guess what I really want to say is Thank you – as I know you are a wonderful, amazing and intelligent teacher and sharing this means a lot to new teachers who think every day is going to be perfect. It just isn’t. Thank you for inspiring all of the new ESL teachers around the world!
    Kerri

    • You got it, Kerri: NOT every day will be perfect. We mess up. Sometimes because things don’t go as planned and sometimes because students’ don’t always react the way we assume they will. But we keep trying, right. It’s not a bad day that will bring us down.

      Cheers, and keep hanging on! :)

  24. Tanya says:

    That is not so bad as you have thought. You have decided that you are just a teacher and even a good teacher, but only from English.
    And we all are still pupils in our real life and it teaches us if we do sth wrong, it gives us real lessons. So you have to thanks for such life lesson, try to analyze the reason of it and understand how you can use it in your life and your communication with other people.

    P.C. I am only practice in my English, so be so kind (please) to excuse me if it is not so perfect.

  25. Maíra says:

    Hi Cecilia,

    this is actually my first time commenting here although it’s been nearly 4/5ish months (I think, but I’m awful with time) I found your blog (I’m one of those who some days just can’t stop reading ELT blogs but yet hardly ever stops to drop a few words… And I don’t even know why. Ops!) but I just had to comment on this one.

    I think we all have our emotional and our cold days. Sometimes we freak out and think we suck, sometimes we admit we’re human and decide to focus on how we can avoid those mistakes in the future. That is, obviously, related to experience but I believe experience isn’t always related to time. I mean, I have been teaching for 1.5 years only. The first ‘real disaster’ I can think of is my last TP on the CELTA course. Everything went wrong: I overplanned, the computer was acting up, I was teaching beginners, it was my first training course EVER after only a semester teaching English… In the end it was a ‘standard’ but it did feel like failure because of the ‘above standards’ I had had before. I spent nearly a week crying over it and very disappointed at myself, even though I KNEW celta is extremely hard and I had done very, very well considering my lack of experience and training (I didn’t even know what ICQs or parroting were before that).

    I have never frozen whilst being observed and maybe that’s actually because all the lessons went (basically) as planned, but if I were to take the celta course now, I know I would react differently towards my disastrous last TP, even though I’d still go very hard on myself.
    I usually try to analyze my lessons and think of how I could improve, especially when things don’t go as planned, so I can say that in these 1.5 years I have developed self-awareness. I think the more aware you are, the easier it is to accept your mistakes and try to improve them. Of course there are those days I think “OMG how could I do that? Worst teacher ever!” but then on the following lesson everything goes well with that very same group and I go “Gosh that was nice!” :P

    So I still judge myself and go very hard on myself (sth I’d reeeally like to change but I guess it takes a lot of practice) but it’s easier to ‘change angles’ and focus on how I can use that to improve in the future. So to sum up I guess we’ll all have those days but if we constantly remind ourselves we can actually learn from those mistakes we might behave just as you did after your lesson. The ability to go unplugged and have a plan B, C, D and so on, however, comes with time, I guess… And being able to go unplugged makes you more confident… And you can only go unplugged if you’re confident enough to do so… I’m not sure I’m making sense so I’d rather stop typing now :P

    Guess I’m gonna try commenting more often, though! :)

    Cheers,
    Mai

  26. Sydney Brown says:

    [...] through the Box of Chocolates’ blog, I found their honesty very refreshing and nice. Her post “The Worst Class I Have Ever Taught…So What?” was really nice to read. Since I am going to start teaching in a couple years, I am always so [...]

  27. [...] this blog post made me feel better about my own teaching it also made me think of a way that she could have backup [...]

  28. Nenya says:

    YAY! ^_^ I’m so happy that I discovered your blog!
    Well, we all have experienced at least one bad teaching/bad class day during our teaching career. It can happen to anyone I guess.

    My worst day was when I tried to teach the 0 and 1st Conditional to a group of A2 students aged 8-9. It was probably the 2nd or 3rd day I was teaching that group and I really didn’t know much about their behaviour, characters etc. I started presenting the conditionals using some funny comics and also providing some personal examples. Then I wrote the formation of the conditionals on the board and invited the students to practice together with me and provide their own examples. No matter how much I tried, not even one student could grasp the concept! They were sitting there staring at me and didn’t even say a word. Then suddently they all raise their hands asking me to repeat the formation and use of the conditionals. ‘I didn’t understand Miss!’ ‘Can you repeat it from the begining?’ ‘I don’t understand a thing!’ I felt horrible….as if I wasn’t doing my job well :/
    During the last 5 minutes of the lesson, they started laughing! And they revealed to me the fact that they played this trick to any new teacher that went to their classroom. Of course they new the conditionals! They were taught the same lesson last year! God…I should have known!
    After this, they became one of my favourite classes. I love those kids!

  29. [...] The Worst Class I have Ever Taught… So What? [...]

  30. […] this post, Cecilia Lemos discusses her worst class experience. This experience in particular was extremely […]

  31. […] to respond and give their stories and add to the sharing of experiences. On her post about the worst class ever, she has her story about how everything that could go wrong just seemed to go that way, such as […]

  32. […] over the Box of Chocolates Blog and came across the blog post for August 17th. It is titled “The Worst Class I have Ever Taught… So What?“. The author Cecilia Lemos talks about a day of class that she way supervised. The powerpoint […]

  33. […] at the most. The Box of Chocolates blog got my attention when I reflected on the blog post about the worst class she ever taught (extremely interesting and humorous […]

  34. M Ben says:

    Here’s my worst teaching experience -
    http://www.etni.org/etnirag/issue4.htm

  35. […] The Worst Class I have Ever Taught…so What? – Cecelia shares her frustration of teaching a lesson that failed.   Not only did it fail but […]

  36. […] The Worst Class I have Ever Taught…so What? – Cecelia shares her frustration of teaching a lesson that failed.   Not only did it fail but […]

  37. […] It means our failure is going to teach us something amazing to make us into even better teachers. You can read about her experience here. It goes into detail about how she had the worst lessons of her life as she was being observed. […]

  38. […] really felt like this blog post directly addressed a real fear of mine when it comes to teaching. The blog discusses how she […]

  39. […] mostly to keep my hopes and attitude up. The author,  Cecilia Lemos, in her blog titled “Box of Chocolates” chooses to discuss a time she felt so wrong. Technology failed her in her lesson as did her […]

  40. […] coming up with ideas to make the lesson interesting for the students. This is what happened with Cecillia Lemos. A teacher who is a 20 year veteran at teaching. It become frustrating when lessons do not go […]

  41. […] or an unoriginal 2 of spades you must deal with the hand you have in front of you. This blogger, Box of Chocolates (you never know what you’re going to get), recaps on what she thinks is her worst class ever […]

  42. […] to view everything that happens in a classroom as a learning experience. The author of the blog, Cecilia Lemos, feels the same way. With each new event there is something to be gained by the […]

  43. […] blog post  is very refreshing because it shows how real teachers can be.  Teaching is hard and teachers are […]

  44. The worst class that I have taught was really frustrating. It was a class of adult learners. They weren’t getting my lessons. It made me feel that I was an incompetent teacher. No matter how I try they weren’t improving. I tried every strategy but still nothing. I have learned the art of letting go. There are just some days that you rock and some days that you suck. That’s teaching.

  45. […] this blog, the author talks about her experience in a class where her powerpoint that she had prepared […]

  46. […] expect when it is my turn to be evaluated – I will be nervous.   In the case of Cecilia Lemos she had planned an entire lesson around a power point she had created.  It crashed before she […]

  47. […] Link to the post: http://cecilialemos.com/2012/08/17/the-worst-class-i-have-ever-taught-so-what/ […]

  48. […] a little embarrassing, and it was a big disappointment to us as well. In Cecilia Lemos’ post “The Worst Class I have Ever Taught…So What?” from her blog Box of Chocolates, she takes this subject to light and tells us about her worst […]

  49. […] it seems as if nothing would go right? I know that I have, and Cecilia Lemos, the author of the blog, had the same experience in this particular post. She had her lesson plan perfected and was ready […]

  50. […] it had the word chocolate in the title. The article title though really caught my attention, “The Worst Class I Ever Taught…So What?” As someone who is definitely nervous about my first year of teaching I thought this would give […]

  51. […] nervous to think about being observed during student teaching. But why should I be nervous? In her blog, Cecilia Lemos talks about the worst class she has ever taught, and it just happened to be when […]

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