Have you ever given a lesson that turned out so bad that you still have nightmares about it? I mean, a terrible lesson. Like you look back on it and you cringe and shake your head and can’t imagine how you could have screwed up so bad? This is my lesson that went from bad to worse to unthinkably bad. This is the read aloud I still have nightmares about.
A Bad Beginning
The year was 2012 in spring. I was a teaching assistant in a second grade dual language classroom. I’d been working with the second grade teacher since September and she trusted me with doing a read aloud everyday. At the beginning of the year I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t show the kids the illustrations as I read. The kids actually had to ask me to see them. I figured that out pretty quick, though, and she thought I did a pretty good job.
So I was trusted with choosing a book to read every day. I tried to find a way to connect it with what she taught in the reading lesson, and I usually could. Until…
The teacher told me that poetry was a really difficult thing to teach and that I should try to stay away from poetry when choosing my read alouds lest I confuse the kids in an already confusing unit.
You have to remember: this is a dual language classroom, meaning that half of the students spoke English at home. Poetry, especially Spanish poetry, can use some very complex vocabulary, complex even for students who speak Spanish as their first language.
The teacher gave me this warning. So what did I do? I decided I was going to pick a poem.
That was my first mistake.
From Bad to Worse
Now this next part is the part that I regret most. I picked a poem I remembered from when I taught SIXTH GRADE in Spain. The poem was one that I vaguely remembered, and I printed it off without reading it right before I was to give the read aloud.
I messed up:
I hadn’t read it in over a year.
It wasn’t a book from the teacher’s library.
It was poetry, exactly what the teacher told me to avoid.
Things Get Worse
It gets worse? Oh yes. I still hadn’t even read the poem yet.
So there I was in my normal spot in the library corner with my freshly printed off pages feeling pleased with myself. I was going to read a poem to the kids. It wasn’t going to be bad.
I start reading. I didn’t even get through the first stanza before I had already read 2 words that I didn’t even know the meaning of. Crap.
I powered on, though, and kept reading despite noticing the puzzled looks on a good number of the students’ faces. It was after I’d gotten about halfway through the poem that I realized I had made a terrible mistake.
I couldn’t stop in the middle, though. I finished reading and was met with blank stares. The teacher was reading with a student while I had been doing the read aloud, but she noticed quickly what I had done.
She hurried the kids off to snack and independent reading and talked to me right away.
That was about the toughest conversation I had with someone. I call it a conversation, but really it was a very apt dressing down. The phrase “the kids lost an entire read aloud” still rings in my head. All I could mutter was “sorry.”
I could barely look at her the rest of the day. I just about cried. I used my lunch to write an apology-. I didn’t have any appetite anyway.
I screwed up. There wasn’t much left to say. The teacher forgave me, but every time I see her now, I still think about that read aloud.
Sometimes when I’m driving in my car it still comes to me.
To this day, I still fear teaching poetry. I’ve barely taught it at all, and when I did I’m sure I taught it very poorly. That’s something I need to get over.
There IS An Upshot!
Since I became a teacher, I have never read a book to students I hadn’t already read before. Not one. I even wrote about how to make sure your read alouds don’t fail.
I have also never read a book out loud to my students without a lesson plan. Seriously, that one lesson changed me forever.
I’m hoping with having written this, that I can hopefully start to get past that nightmare and start to leave it behind. It was a bit cathartic.
Take that one lesson that gives you nightmares. The one you cringe at. Take that nightmare lesson and tell yourself that that does not define your teaching. Put it behind you. You’re an awesome teacher! Your kids learn so much from you!
Move on from that lesson with me.