What to Do When a Lesson Goes Bad

Teachers, have you ever ditched a lesson halfway through? How did you explain it to your students?
There I was, attempting a dramatic reading of a book excerpt that was really just an odd combination of poorly constructed, dull sentences.

Suddenly, there was a noise from the balcony. A snicker. Then a hiss. When an over-ripe tomato whizzed by my head, splattering behind me, I knew I had to get Statler and Waldorf ejected from the classroom. And fast.

But wait. Those old buzzards had a point. If I weren't reading it myself, I would be bored by the book too. I knew what I had to eject. And fast.

I ditched the book.

Of course, the heckling took place in my imagination. I have no balcony in my classroom. Nor do I have Muppets. (Although I do have a kid with shaggy hair.) And my students are too polite to heckle. The boring book part, however, really happened. When I looked up at the glazed over eyes of my kids, I knew I had to do something.

What I did was apologize to my students. I told them that I was required to read that book excerpt to them, and even though it was written by a well-known author, that doesn't mean it's well-written. I added that I thought the book was garbage and it was against everything I believed in to continue reading it.

The book was part of a publisher created teaching unit we were told we had to teach. Needless to say, the rest of the unit was only slightly more interesting than this particular book.

The worst part of all this, the part I feel major guilt about, is that it took me way too long to follow my instincts. I read that excerpt in its entirety to two unfortunate classes before mustering up the courage to stop.
One of the problems with teachers is that we are rule followers. For the most part, we do as we are told. I remember after the World Trade Center attacks, a neighbor told me that her daughter, who was in one of the towers, was advised by her boss to stay put and not try to leave the building. They would be safe, he assured them. Well, her daughter defied the boss and left anyway. Sadly, the boss and those who followed his well meaning order, stayed and perished. I knew at that time that I definitely would have died. I would have obeyed my boss, because I am a consummate rule follower. I'm not proud of it.

 A wonderful friend told me that she was once required to teach a bestselling novel. On the very first day, it became clear that it wouldn't work. As soon as she realized the book was useless to her students, she paraded around the classroom, trashcan in hand, and told her students to drop those brand new books right in. Wow! What courage! And what a lesson to teach your students.

The lesson? There are a couple.

  1. Following the rules is not wise if it is against our better judgment. 
  2. Just because a book is popular, doesn't mean it's quality literature or worthwhile reading. 

I've got lesson two under control. Lesson one? Let's say I'm working on it.

I'd love to hear from readers! Have you ever ditched a lesson halfway through? Were you able to dodge Statler and Waldorf's tomatoes before you did?


  1. You have such a cute blog and I am now your newest follower!

    I know what you mean about teachers being 'rule followers' because most of use are. However, like you I have ditched a few lessons...and again like you...not before the tomatoes began to fly...okay mine weren't real tomatoes either...but you get the picture!

    Mrs. B's Nook

  2. Hi Dee, Thank you! The modern day equivalent of tomato throwing is drooling on the desk, isn't it?

    1. Enjoyed your blog as both a teacher and an author....www.mikeschultz.org

    2. Thank you, Mike! I see you are the expert on heckling! Very interesting stuff!

  3. What a great post! I think you are absolutely right. As a generalization, teachers follow the rules. We do what is asked of us, even if we sometimes think it may not be right. What a really thought provoking post! It has made me think about the ridiculous time frame I have been given to teach topics in math, and how I should just "move on" after one day- even if students don't understand it. I know better, and have to accept that it is okay to break the rules. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Caffeine and Lesson Plans

  4. Hi Mandy, I suppose that as teachers, we are always striving to be the perfect student! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Love your writing style! I feel like I am in your classroom, just waiting for the bell to ring as I endure endless boredom, prescribed by people who will never have to feel the weight of their proclamations. Ugh!

    As a Speech-Language Pathologist, when I have to go against the Powers That Be, it's a little different than your story. It's usually to get appropriate services out of a system that is underfunded. Not sure which would be more difficult: holding pre-teens' attention, or finding extra funding in a school district. Yikes!

    Here's to strength for another day!


  6. Julie, How I yearn for the good old days when they just let us teach! I wouldn't want to have to fight for funding though. It must be so frustrating to see money spent elsewhere when all you're trying to do is help your kids out.
    Thanks for coming by!