Avoiding Train Wrecks



I’m somewhat flattered that my principal asked a teacher, one who like myself is too busy in her lessons, to read my blog. Of course, when she told me that she, too, is busy and has a lot going on, I didn’t know if  I should be flattered because I’m working through my problems or if I should be deflated, because I’m still struggling with having too much going on.

Lately, I’m not sure I’m walking the words I write. I really would like  to evolve into the woman of my words. I’d like to find those things I seek, strive for that which I purportedly aspire, continually better myself, and  be consistently on top of my game.

Last year, I felt like I grew–a lot.  As I pushed myself to reach the ever-increasing bar, my principal  pushed me as well through the questions he asked, the challenges he gave me, and the bluntness and constructive feedback in which he evaluated.  With 10 criteria and 4 levels of being evaluated and with my desire to not be seen as “inconsistent,” my year of reflection evolved into action:

This year I feel like I’m hitting a wall and unable to grow and reach the ever-increasing bar. And so, busy teacher wonder-twin in the building, I want my words to have meaning; perhaps we, in our busyness, can co-mentor each other as we strive to better ourselves, our students, and our teaching.

Sometimes I feel like the optimistic cha-cha I wrote about a few weeks back has devolved into a bunch of backward steps, and I have two left feet when it comes to stepping forward.



Earlier this fall when speaking of academic vocabulary or differentiation or something else not going on as it should across the school, my principal asserted, “We are consistently inconsistent.”

I hate to ascribe those words to myself, “CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT.” I hate to own those words, but in a recent email from my principal responding to my email about his observation,  he wrote, “I have observed some outstanding teaching days and some not so good ones over the past few years.”

Ouch–that hurt! Admittedly, I am at least  sporadically inconsistent, but still that’s not acceptable to me. I do strive to be consistently on top of my game. Most nights I look over my plans and think about the next day, and at times my conceptual brain can’t figure out how my lesson will work logistically.

The last lesson my principal observed I would consider great in the lesson plan, but a train wreck in its execution. Honestly, the night before a part of me predicted the train wreck, and I even asked myself, I wonder how I can make this flow from beginning to end. I wonder how my logistical and strategic principal would recommend I put this together. And while trying to make sense of that, I neglected to gather the data I planned to use for differentiation. Result: TRAIN WRECK–I could visualize the derailment before it happened even though the most of the pieces of the lesson were good, there were a few missing pieces as well as a few odd pieces that didn’t belong, and so all the parts didn’t fit the whole.


Little did I know he would visit my class the next day, witness the train wreck, and offer some harsh yet constructive feedback.

In response to one of my emotional and defensive emails regarding my train wreck of a lesson that could have been good had I put the pieces together in a way that made sense and tweaked or eliminated the pieces that didn’t fit,  my  principal elaborated explaining that nobody is perfect with everything 170-180 times and that if I expected that in myself, I would be disappointed. And guess what?  I don’t expect perfection. Still, though, I want consistent mastery of the standards set forth for me because I realize with consistent mastery of the standards, I will be giving my students what they need and what they deserve.

While I don’t expect perfection, I know my content, I understand the expectations set forth for me, I am a passionate and knowledgeable teacher, and DANG IT–with that in mind, I’d like to be consistently evaluated as  proficient and consistent in all areas. And not even because of the numbers on the rubric, but because it’s what each student deserves in each and every class and it’s also what I am capable of.

So even when things happen, lessons change, the 117 papers cannot get graded as quickly as I’d like.  Even when those things happen, I would like to know how to ensure that my kids get what they deserve and that I am able to find a way to reach that rung and scale that wall and consistently be who I strive to be.

Over the past few years, as the evaluative measures have changed along with my primary evaluator/principal, the struggles I’ve always had have come out of the closet and are the dragons I continuously am trying to slay, and it ain’t easy, and I’m not winning all the battles.


Right now I’m looking at my dragons obstructing the view of the raised bar and wondering what rungs do I need to make to reach the ever-increasing  bar all the while slaying my dragons. Maybe it’s time to reconsider my  One Little Word (OLW) for 2015, prioritize, as I slow down, think, prioritize, break things down, and purposely climb this ladder as I strive to be consistently consistent and become the teacher the system needs me to be while not losing my sure footing by compromising the passionate teacher who I inherently am.

Several questions emerge that I need to answer to slay my dragons and climb this ladder:

  • How can  my first class get the same level of teaching as my latter classes?
  • How can I connect the dots in such a way that I break things down and simplify things so my students (as well as my classroom visitors) understand?
  • How can I plan in such a way that I  anticipate the problems, predict the flow, visualize the flow?
  • How can I recognize the pieces that don’t fit the puzzle and ensure that each piece is integral to what I’m building?
  • How can I make the hours of planning more effective?
  • How can I lose some of the busyness, retain the engagement, and focus more on the skills/targets?

In my 19th year of teaching, I feel like the logistical problems that often surface when I teach should be avoidable. The last “not so good” lesson was planned out well yet executed poorly. Differentiation was the core of the lesson; however, the dots didn’t connect.  As I planned for that lesson, I didn’t foresee a massive train wreck, but I did wonder how I would connect the dots from beginning to end. When I asked my principal, how I could plan in such a way to make these dots connect and avoid train wrecks and logistical nightmares, he said, “I can’t answer that question.”

A man who usually has an answer to any question I ask did not have an answer to the question I am continually asking myself. Perhaps I’m the only one who can answer that question. And so now as I seek to answer the question that will help me become consistently consistent. I suppose I need to find my own answer, but I’m open to suggestions.


At the same time, I think that as long as I see myself as a person who lacks the cognitive ability to break things down, find the nuts and bolts, connect the dots, and put together the pieces of the puzzle, I think I will struggle.


One thought on “Avoiding Train Wrecks

  1. I think that half the battle in defeating a dragon is recognizing it is there and then finding its weaknesses. I think you on on that path. Train wrecks do happen, unfortunately. We can plan for every foreseeable contingency and then something hits us from left field.


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