A Good Bad Teaching Day: The Do-Over

“I’m going to start this class a little differently this morning, because I am feeling self-reflective. Yesterday was a bad teaching day,” I said to 17 DC Public School teachers who were part of a 3-day class I was teaching on color, tempera paint and watercolors. I was disappointed in the quality of the materials I had purchased. The tempera acted like watercolor and the watercolor behaved like tempera paint–it’s hard to talk about transparency and light as a quality of watercolor when the yellow paint can cover blue–and check out the transparency of the tempera paint:


I went home after Day 2 feeling disappointed in myself, and frustrated. I saw the participants’ faces and read boredom at my feeble attempts to salvage the day. I explained the material conundrum to higher-ups, saying that I might have to cut the 3rd day short if I couldn’t find a solution. Everyone was fine with that option, except me. I had 17 people who came to class excited, interested in learning something new, eager to participate and hungry for knowledge. And I had let them down. It would be so easy to blame the materials and cancel the class, so easy to blame the fact that I had to order from particular companies. I could have chalked it up to lack of participant’s experience with the materials (how many times have you said to yourself “the children can’t ________”), and  moved on to something else, but instead, I blamed myself. I revisited my teaching–the context, the environment, the provocation, the intent, and then I set out to fix my mistakes.  I rounded up better quality paper from my own stash. I left the watercolors open overnight so they would dry out a bit and not be as sticky. I experimented and came up with a way for participants to make washes with the colors. I change the brushes to a softer bristle. I found better words and tools to explain what glazing is.  I came back for day 3 with renewed vigor and determination.

This may not sound like a remarkable story, because it’s not, it happens all the time when we teach. We make mistakes, we aren’t adequately prepared for children (or adults), we don’t ask the right questions, or we miss crucial elements in our documentation. The experience did make me think though, about how many times in our classrooms we don’t acknowledge our mistakes, and just plow on through to get to the next “successful” thing. It is easy to blame bad teaching days on children’s behavior, or the week of rainy days, or lack of children’s interest, but I think in doing so we not only give up on ourselves but we give up on children. I learned a lot when I admitted to myself that I goofed. I forced myself to face the problem. I admitted my mistake to my class. I found solutions to the problems, and different strategies for teaching. And, and I think this is a key point here–I gave myself,  the participants, and the materials, another opportunity. If participants got nothing else out of the class, I hope they understood the deep learning that can emerge from the do-over, and the courage it takes to admit you need one.

Add Your Comment