581. “Winging It”

Most teachers I know have times when they have to “wing it” – times when either they have no plans or they have plans that don’t work, and they have to come up with other ideas on the spot. These times are more frequent among some teachers than among others, and most teachers have more complete plans at some times than at others. There are lots of variations on teachers’ planning patterns. There are even some teachers who always have complete plans and always follow them, but I’ve never been one of them, and I think that’s one way I’ve been part of a large majority.
Many of us have gotten pretty good at “winging it.” We can spontaneously pick up where we left off or start new activities in ways that make everyone (children and interested adults) think we’ve thought hard about what we were going to do. We can really impress people; we can get reviews that praise us, indicating that our lessons have been carefully thought out, and consequently quite successful. Even when we’ve secretly “winged it.”
But come to think of it, maybe nothing comes from nothing. That is, even when we think we haven’t planned our lessons, maybe we have. Maybe knowing what to do gets to be automatic enough to make us less reliant on conventional plans. Some of my most successful lessons have happened at times when I’ve thought I wasn’t ready. Sometimes that’s made me think I was a great con artist. But it may be that the only one I’ve really been fooling has been myself; maybe I’ve been much more ready than I’ve thought.
When I had to “wing it,” I often felt nervous and guilty. Taxpayers were paying me to teach, and good teaching is supposed to involve lots of premeditation. By the time we start doing what we do with children, we’re supposed to have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing. When I felt unprepared, I worried that someone who was good at seeing through people would show up in my classroom and tell the taxpayers what I was doing. Of course, that was a fairly irrational fear, but in my mind, I scolded myself for not knowing what I was doing. I was supposed to be doing what I consider the most important work in the world, and I was doing it haphazardly.
Now, as a volunteer, I’m pretty good at telling when a teacher is “winging it.” Having done so myself, I don’t think I’m that judgmental spy I used to worry about. If I know the teacher, I may smile knowingly, but I don’t condemn. In fact, I even pay property taxes now, and I’m still not at all bothered when a teacher occasionally has to reach into his or her storehouse of ideas or quickly come up with a new idea. I value spontaneity. It may not work as a steady diet, but it can result in some great teaching.

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