Teaching Travails

The Five-Step Plan

The Five-Step Plan every educator needs

Dear Graduate Teacher,

Congratulations on your first teaching job!

Double-congratulations for making it through the hardest part – the start. You’ve survived the first term and are now catching up on sleep in your school holidays. WOOHOO!!

How’s your lesson-planning going? Your assessments and reports? Parent-teacher interviews? Your portfolio for the overseeing body that registers all the teachers in your state? (I feel for you: when my peers and I graduated – back last century – we were trusted to be able to teach, without the imposition of having to collect evidence for a year to prove it; there was no provisional registration back then, only full registration upon completion of our degrees. As if your job isn’t hard enough, without that additional burden!)

Is your confidence building – as it should be – or wilting – as it often does under the crushing pressure of the contemporary education system? Are your university-inspired one-size-fits-all solutions as promising as they were on Day One of Term One? Have they started to lose their shine yet … now that you are in the reality of the classroom and have witnessed how one size doesn’t actually fit all?

No matter how tired you feel now, there are some great solutions. You don’t have to pretend to me, I see you in your reality (not what you wish is your reality): you dragged your feet into the holidays, too exhausted to lift them, just like every other staff member and every single student.

The good news is, I have a fail-safe plan that will save you from all the times you can’t run your prepared class, due to half your students being absent, because <tick correct option on any given day>:

  • an excursion you weren’t informed about suddenly took away multiple students
  • sports day was re-scheduled due to bad weather – but only half your students are sporty, so are actually going
  • the latest virus-flu-gastro-whatever has decimated your class, with multiple students feeling miserable at homes while they sweat out their fevers
  • a leadership program has seconded a bunch of your students with leadership potential, because a life coach is in town and the school has taken advantage of it
  • standardised testing is being run in home groups, and your class isn’t one homogenous home group
  • a specialised program has snaffled a select few within a target group (Indigenous, LGBTI+, females in underrepresented careers, cultural days for the second language learners etc.) … worthy programs, undeniably, but what to do with the straggling remainder of your class?
  • insert your personalised reason here.

Allow me to introduce …

The Five-Step Plan

The beauty of the five-step plan is that it NEVER fails. This is because expectations are low (even non-existent) in this rescue-plan. And – unlike your students’ other subjects, where teachers unaware of the Five-Step Plan will continue their planned lessons through gritted teeth in adverse circumstances, presenting the same content twice (once in this lesson, and again in the next lesson to catch up the absent students) – your students will be enthusiastically reporting the fun they had in your lesson, to the extent that any absent students will almost wish they hadn’t gone to <insert reason here>.

Scenario: Your students have an exam at the end of next week. You have been methodically taking them through the set text for the entire term: your carefully-scheduled planning has scaffolded the characters, plot, themes, societal influences and other key points, logically and sequentially building up the students’ understanding. You have taught them essay structures for theme- and character-prompts. You are proud to have remembered to plan around public holidays, photo days and sports days. You have two more lessons left before the exam: this lesson is going to be the last of the content, and next lesson is going to be revision.

Your class is after recess. You have your stimulus cards on your desk, your whizz-bang presentation open on the first slide on your computer, and with a contented sigh – you got this: your kids are going to ACE this exam! – you take a grateful sip of your hard-earned coffee. Then … disaster strikes.

Your colleague sits next to you, in a state of quiet panic. (You don’t take any notice, because that’s the status quo here.) She quietly says, ‘How many kids are you losing next lesson to <insert reason here>?’ You dreamily – because you’re still envisaging your perfect lesson – reply, ‘To what? I haven’t heard about that.’ Over your cup of coffee, which suddenly tastes bitter, you mentally go through your attendance roll and realise that you have suddenly lost half to three-quarters of your students ……….. and you KNOW you can’t present the last part of your content, because you need ALL your students there for that!

Recess feels ten minutes shorter than it should be when the bell goes. Now in a state of quiet panic yourself (which you don’t notice, because that’s the status quo here) you find yourself striding to your classroom, facing a whole period with nothing to teach.

Then the Five-Step Plan kicks in.

Five steps before your classroom door a brainwave hits you: I’ll get the kids doing role-plays! They will be characters from the book in a scenario of their choice: plan scenarios – ten minutes; rehearse in groups – five minutes; perform the role-plays – fifteen minutes; give guided constructive criticism to the groups – ten minutes; and for the remaining time the students can self-reflect on how the role-plays aided their understanding and boosted their confidence for the exam.

That will be fun, and it’s far enough from drudge-work to entertain them (read: keep them off my back so I can re-schedule my planning before next lesson) and will form as a sort of loose revision for the exam.

BRILLIANT! You’ve nailed it again!

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