New Year Prep Gone Awry

I just spent the past two days cleaning up mess after mess I created for myself. How many times did I screw up this weekend? Oh, let’s see…

On Friday, I had the cute idea of emailing a welcome note of excitement to my incoming students. After hitting “send,” I realized I had not one, but TWO, errors in my message. Ugh. (I’d used the wrong homophone when I invited students to take a “sneak peak” of our class website and I’d written this beauty: “Finally, there’s no way better way to launch a school year than to borrow the wisdom of John Green..”) Quick on my feet, I thought, Hey, teachable moment here. Just have the kids find my errors and throw a bonus point at anyone who gets the right answer this weekend. I dashed off a second (error-free) email. This was not, as it turned out, my best idea ever.

A few kids jumped on the offer and we had lovely exchanges. I was charmed on Saturday by their attempts to find my mistakes (some were right, some not) and had several nice e-conversations. But then the deadline passed and I started to get a few emails from students who were upset that they had missed the opportunity to grab an easy bonus point. They hadn’t checked their school emails because, why would they? It was the weekend before school starts. I wrote tender email replies, letting those students know that this was just my lighthearted attempt to acknowledge my own errors and assuring them that they’ll have many more chances for success in my class this year.

Now, this was just a minor little thing. No need to get upset about a few emails from kids who overuse the word “unfair,” right? True, but here’s the thing – my actions created a sour note to the beginning of my class for some of my students. A handful are happy, but a majority are probably bummed, thinking the deck seems stacked against them. Fair or not, their first impression of me has been negative – when that’s the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I was trying to build with the welcome email in the first place. Man, I messed up that one.

Of course, I should not have offered that stupid bonus point. If I had just said, “Hey, find my errors and send me the corrections,” I would’ve removed all of the pressure. In fact, my boneheaded bonus point move is completely contrary to my entire philosophy of the value of intrinsic motivation. Remember that? I spent all spring with the 20Time Project trying to remove the carrots and sticks I use with kids, only to revert to dangling bonus points at the launch of this new year. What the heck was I thinking?

I meet everyone tomorrow, when I’ll briefly explain myself to the full class, acknowledging that this was not my greatest idea. I’ll promise to keep trying to do better. And then we’ll move on with the day.

Unfortunately, this was not my only weekend misstep. My SmartBoard died this summer (a new part is on order, but the machine is eight years old and may not survive the brain transplant surgery), so I had to scramble to pull together a Frankenstein’s monster of abandoned and nearly dead tech pieces. I went to school on Sunday (in the midst of the email fiasco) to work on setting up my tech cart only to realize after the 20-minute drive that I’d left my classroom keys at my house. Sigh…20 minutes back home and another 20 minutes back to school again.

When I finally got into my room, I didn’t have the right adapter to connect my laptop to the LCD projector. Forty minutes and $30 later (thanks, Best Buy, for having the outdated tech accessories that teachers desperately need), I was finally able to see the light – the projector’s light.

Last night, I dreamt it was the first day of school and I had been reassigned out of English to teach…wait for it…advanced haircutting. Two administrators kept showing up and handing me little red boxes of Chinese food as my cosmetology students ran amok. I woke at 3 a.m. drenched in sweat and craving Kung Pao chicken.

You would think that a teacher about to start Year 18 would be wiser and more pulled together, yet it’s clear there’s still so much for me to learn. For now, I just keep telling myself, Tomorrow’s going to be okay…tomorrow’s going to be okay…

Teach on, everyone!

20 thoughts on “New Year Prep Gone Awry

  1. meganmcrae727 says:

    Oh man, I am so sorry you had to deal with all this stress to start the year. But knowing you and the positive light you are, you’ll turn it around asap with your wit and talent as a seasoned veteran of the teaching force. Sending positive vibes your way for your first day! You can do it!!

  2. Laura, this made me laugh but only because I’ve been in a similar (sinking) boat! Your first day will be awesome and those kids are beyond lucky to have you as their teacher! Good luck this year and thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Meg, for the kind words. Last night, my husband was talking me down and reminded me that we are problem solvers and this is just another problem that I’ll find a way to fix. He’s a logistics manager for one of those when-it-absolutely-positively-needs-to-be-there-overnight companies and is all about finding solutions under a crazy time crunch. This might not be my Plan A way to start the year, but I’ll keep trying Plan B, Plan C…Plan G until I get these students ready to roll. Promise. 😉

  4. Yes, Kristy, this felt just like a sinking ship – and I’m not a strong swimmer! There is comfort in knowing that other teachers are facing their own versions of the Titanic-meets-iceberg launch to the year. Thanks for reading!

  5. I am so sorry for your mistake-ridden weekend; however, because you have proven your “fabulousness” over and over through your lessons, blogs, and now videos, I know you will persevere and have a fantastic year. This sounds very much like my last school year, and I have been teaching for ten glorious years. Thanks for sharing.

  6. (Head bowed, fist raised in solidarity.)
    Isn’t that just the *worst* feeling on Earth? But as others have said, I know you’ll recover in grand style.
    Onward and upward.
    Rock on. 🙂

  7. Poor you Laura! We have all had days/weekends like that but it certainly doesn’t help the stress levels, especially when you are so conscientious about trying to get things off to a good start with your classes. Hope that it went okay today. I have still got a week to go before we start back and my dream last night was that my new class had all turned into cats and curled up on their desks!

  8. Thanks, everyone! My misery does enjoy your company. And, Allison, I’ll take soft kitties, warm kitties any day over teens with clippers, scissors, and bleach. 🙂 On the upside, today went great. No one threw any food containers at me, all of my students seemed to accept my mea culpa, and the jalopy of a projector kept working even when I switched mid-lesson between the laptop and document camera. Hooray for small victories!

  9. Kelley Cowley says:

    Oh, Laura. I’m glad to hear you turned the ship around, but I never really had any doubt. You are a stellar teacher.

  10. Thanks, Kelley. I don’t know about that, but I did learn a lesson from all of this. What I think is a faceplant might just be a stumble. Also, I learned that teens really like it when you humble yourself in front of them, but I think most of us already knew that. Time to finish this cup of coffee because Day 2 starts in (ack!) just two hours.

  11. I am glad to hear that your days have been getting better. We are all fallible, and we ALL have had the same things happen to us. I’m grateful that you were able to make it through your day because I don’t know how I’d manage through the year without your posts and all your amazing resources. Is that selfish?

    Here’s hoping you continue to persevere and have a terrific rest of your year!

  12. Thanks, Michelle! It’s now the end of Day 2 and I think I’m starting to feel my groove set in. It really is going to be a great year, after all. 🙂

  13. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your blog, and I needed that reminder that we’ve all had that day when we probably just should’ve stayed in bed! I agree with you that teenagers respond well to humility (perhaps it’s the little sadists in them – ha!), and I’m glad you ended day two on a high note! Today was my first-ever yearbook distribution day and our 8th day of school, and I have been mentally chanting, “Onward and upward, onward and upward,” since I woke up this morning! Now to get through two.more.days. .

  14. Oh, Angie, I feel your pain. I was the yearbook adviser for TEN years on my campus and every single blasted year I had the same nightmare right before distribution day – the delivery truck just dumped all of the books in the middle of the gym and the kids were clawing at each other and grabbing the books like a scene out of The Lord of the Flies. It still makes me shudder… 🙂

  15. Laura, I’m sorry to hear about your rough start but I have 100% confidence you will turn this around in no time! And, to be honest, it’s nice to know that even pros like you stumble sometimes. I’ve been second-guessing some of my student interactions from this week but, as you said, often these things are a bigger deal to us than to our students. Just have to keep moving and do the best we can, each and every day.

  16. Absolutely, Melissa! In the words of my favorite blue fish, “Just keep swimmin’. Just keep swimmin’…” The fact that we care this much means it can only be a great year. 😉

  17. Thank you for sharing your stories. It’s easy to get caught up with all of those perfect lessons, the natural integration of technology, and finely honed relationships with students while forgetting there are more stories like this than we care to admit.

  18. Indeed, Louise. You know what they say about the best laid plans. This often happens to me, especially when technology is involved. Nice to know I’m in good company.

  19. Flor Urbina says:

    I have been looking at class websites and can’t decide on one… do you have any advice? I want my students and parents to access it and be able to contact me through it. As well as hold class discussions/blog posts.

  20. Hi Flor,
    Thanks for reaching out to me. I actually built my own class website from scratch (I wouldn’t recommend this path, btw) a bunch of years ago and still use that same one, but if I were starting fresh I’d probably use Google Classroom because you can secure the environment, build your calendars, and add in the blog/discussion components that you want. Unfortunately, I haven’t set up a Google Classroom environment myself so I’m not useful for nuts and bolts kinds of questions, but I know there’s a bunch of YouTube videos showing teachers how to navigate this. If you have a school Gmail account, you should definitely check it out.

    Hope this helps. Have a great 16-17!
    🙂 Laura

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