Failing as a Teacher

Ever had a lesson that you labored over and prepped for and thought was going to be your lesson of the year completely blow up in your face and not even get off the ground? I mean you thought you had the perfect “hook” and engaging set of practice activities prepared and then witnessed students looking at you and subconsciously telling you that they would rather hear nails against the chalkboard for the next 30 minutes than you continue on with your lesson. The quintessential failing as a teacher. Well, this has happened to me many times and (I think) the reason for it occurring is a positive one.


There are many types of teachers but in reality I think teachers eventually fit into two camps. There are teachers who work diligently to establish a consistent practice and teaching style that often yields great consistency and a clear-cut notion of academic standards. The tests they administer are the same from year to year, they try to maintain the same pace annually regardless of student makeup, and they cover the content using the same strategies and activities that they know are tried and tested. The result equals a classroom of consistent (we can argue whether the expectations are high or not and in what capacity) expectation and accountability. They have binders that are organized, structured and arguably universal. Ain’t no teacher evaluation catching them in terms of preparation. And they believe that if Johnny learned how to do PEDMAS the way I taught it to him back in 2004, there is no reason why Brian can’t learn PEDMAS the exact same way, with the exact same teaching methods and practice activities. I am not trying to insinuate a deficit in this teaching practice; I am simply stating facts regarding teaching practice. And at the end of the day, these teachers rarely fail, at least in terms of the optics from their perspective. Sink or swim kids.


The other type of teacher is one who is revisiting her practice and pedagogy on an annual, term-based, and sometimes daily schedule. They know that what worked for Johnny in 2004 may not work for Brian in 2016. Beyond knowing that, they preposition this reality by investigating new ways to engage students. They opt to use their own brain in lesson planning and activity creation more than using the textbook and the “teacher resource book”. They too may have binders but they may look a little more unorganized; some dusty and hardly used in recent years, some with way less sheets than others, some that even exist without predetermined labels (in terms of subject use). Again, not suggesting this teacher is worse or better than the previous type, just stating observations based on anecdotal facts.


The second type of teachers fail. To put it more accurately, they fail a lot more than the first type. To provide more context, when the first type of teacher fails it is on the students and not them but when the second type of teachers fail, the onus seems to fall on the teacher’s shoulders. Now I’ll get to my set of questions:


  1. Which teacher would you rather be?
  2. Which teacher would you rather have teach your child?
  3. Which teacher is better for education in the reality of today?

These are not loaded questions, honestly. I guess it also depends on the personality of you as the reader in your role as teacher, parent, and “educational enthusiast”. In fact, the answer may depend on the “hat” you chose to wear when considering the set of questions. Ultimately, these driving questions should propel you as a teacher to determine your practice in the classroom; resource book and the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality or “let’s try something new and see how it goes, I guess there is learning in that, too” mind state. I know I quote unquote fail as a teacher from time to time. But I would rather fail and take a step back to re-assess my practice than continue slapping down activities and dusty projects that may get students to produce (quality) work but leave them feeling like school is wack. I look at the overall picture of education in terms of the data; and it seems to me that we are still on the one train that promises to leave the station but hasn’t really moved for the last fifty years. A new one shows up, also promising to leave the station, I know which train I am sitting on. Do you?


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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