It has happened to all of us who teach. We have a class session that spins out of control. I just had an hour with my third grade faith formation class that left me exhausted. I can blame our crazy, out-of-control class on several things—the weather, time of year, tired of sitting still, a boring lesson, and everything else under the sun. But why was it so unmanageable? What was it that made me want to sit down and cry “uncle” in the middle of the lesson? One big thing comes to mind: I was underprepared for the class.
By underprepared I mean not having the flow of the class and potential activities fully thought out in advance. Just knowing and understanding the material to teach isn’t enough; I must also choreograph the lesson.
Life, work, or one of my own kids sometimes prevents me from dedicating the time necessary to reviewing and preparing my faith formation class for the week. Because I’ve taught the same grade and same lessons for so long, I think that I can get by with a little less advance work. Nope—kids know when you’re underprepared, and they will feed on it.
In a normal class setting, when the kids get active or a little crazy, I am confident that I can switch gears and re-engage them in the lesson. When I’m underprepared, I can’t think quickly and keep them involved. The more I pause to put my thoughts together, the crazier the room gets.
So what do you do when you walk into a classroom underprepared for what lays ahead? The first thing I always do is pray. I ask the Holy Spirit to be with me and guide me to help the class get through the hour in a productive manner.
Even with prayer, my recent class was challenging. I tried different tactics to get their attention. I changed the tone of my voice; I let them sit on the floor; I let them read a book; I led a discussion and quizzed them. Nothing worked. Just when I felt about to have a meltdown, I remembered that this class responds well to worksheets. Thankfully, I had printed a word scramble pertaining to our lesson and put it in my bag, just in case.
We spent the last 20 minutes of class working our way through the word scramble, which used words we hadn’t learned yet in our lesson for that day. This did the trick in re-engaging the class. Figuring out the word puzzle gave the students a reason to ask me what each word meant and gave me the opportunity to instruct them on its meaning. It was a small success for a class that, just moments before, had seemed hopelessly out of control.
How do you rescue a class when you are underprepared for the lesson?