When I first started teaching, I planned out my entire year in August. I had everything mapped out, all the way to June. I remember feeling pretty confident looking at that completed spreadsheet. Every week was so neatly organized. Every detail was in its place.
As the year began, I started following my perfect plan.
Within a few short weeks, though, I realized my plan wasn’t going to work. Too many things were getting in the way. As much as I tried to adhere to my beautiful spreadsheet, it wasn’t meant to be.
If you find yourself in the same boat, know that you are not alone.
It’s okay to change your plans part way through the year. Here’s why.
First, know that making long-term plans is an important step in mapping out your year. These plans help you to create a strong scope and sequence to your program. They help you to decide when to order supplies. They allow you to communicate your program to your community.
Yet, year-long plans rarely, if ever, go off without a hitch. And that’s OK. Over the years, I have learned any plans made in the beginning of the year should be approached with the attitude that they are written in pencil, not stone.
There are many reasons plans may not work out.
1. Students work faster/slower than expected.
This happens to every teacher. The students in your room are not generic. They work at different paces. Sometimes whole classes work faster than other classes of the same grade level.
2. There are interruptions in the schedule.
Field trips, sick days, assemblies, fire drills, snow days, and many other interruptions can, and often do happen. One year early in my teaching career, a hurricane kept us from school for over a week. Needless to say, my plans were out of sync after that!
3. Students are missing background knowledge and lessons need to be restructured.
Sometimes, especially if you are just getting to know your students, you may find that you thought they would know something that they do not. For example, if students have never used watercolor paints before, it’s difficult to assign a project requiring them to use a variety of techniques. You need to teach the techniques first. Scaffolding learning takes time.
4. Lessons “bomb.” (It happens.)
This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a new teacher. If the students are not engaged, and the lesson is dragging on, sometimes it’s best to shelve it. Set it aside and do something else for a class or two and then return to it if you think it still has value.
5. Students express an interest in something that takes the class in a new direction.
Sometimes plans change because the students lead you in a different direction. Students may express an interest in exploring a new medium that was not next in the plan. You might become aware of an amazing art form that you want to share with your students. Felting wasn’t in your year-long plan? Do it anyway!
Forgive yourself if you get off track.
The early years of teaching are hard for many reasons. Not being perfectly on track with my plans was one of the most difficult things to let go of for me. Looking at my imperfect spreadsheet was a constant source of insecurity. I thought it proved I was a poor teacher.
But teaching is an imperfect process. It is not hard lines and perfect edges. It is messy because it is about people, and people are complex and imperfect. Forgive yourself for not sticking exactly to the plan. It shows you are flexible, which is an important quality for a good teacher to have!
What has caused your year-long plans to get off track?
How do you plan out your year?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.