Why is it that I always feel the best after classes that I’ve planned the least? Is it because less-planned classes can be more organic, following discussions more naturally, accepting tangents? Or is it because I end up talking more in classes less planned, and don’t have to wait around bored while students practice with problems I’ve prepared? Clearly, some theories are more complimentary than others.
Of course, when I work for eight hours on 100 minutes of a lesson, I feel great about it. When I do a TON of work, my lessons are satisfying at reasonable rates. But there seems to be a sort of uncanny valley that starts at about one hour of prep and doesn’t end until about four hours. More of an uncanny crevasse.
My work between one and two hours goes towards tiering the lesson, or differentiating an activity. I can invent or find an activity in this time, but it’s not enough time to make sure it’s great. I spend this time improving the lesson at the cost of its flexibility. Since the flexibility was the only thing making the lesson fun, and I haven’t replaced it with anything else that’s fun, I fall into the fun abyss. After 3 hours I’ve started adding something else that’s fun – an intrinsically engaging activity or demonstration – and start clawing my way out.
Here’s the worst part: I currently spend between two and three hours preparing my classes. Previously in my career, I was hitting the easy sweet spot, at between 45 and 75 minutes. Now I’m aiming at a harder (higher?) goal – fun and satisfaction, with big doses of student practice, understanding, and interest.
So, am I improving? The same valley exists neither in the graph of educational content vs. prep time nor in test scores vs. prep time. On some levels I’m more satisfied with my two- and three-hour lessons, even though they’re less fun. However, student interest is correlated to the amount of fun I’m having. And, dangit, so is how much I like teaching! Will my kids this year have higher skill levels, but like math less?