During my time with HTF, I’ve read a lot about teaching and learning. I’ve read about the importance of “critical hope” for growing roses in concrete; about the “warm demanders” who telegraph high expectations and love to their students; about the “hidden curriculum” that we too often teach students based on their families’ socioeconomic backgrounds. As illuminating as I’ve found these texts, I have to say that perhaps the most valuable piece of advice about teaching I’ve encountered comes from the hit CW television show, The Flash.
Friends and colleagues who know me well are likely already rolling their eyes (I talk about the show a lot). But I swear, this really is good advice, and I’ve found myself thinking about it quite a bit lately as I try to adapt to the new reality of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leonard Snart (a.k.a. Captain Cold) tells us: “There are only four rules you need to remember. Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails… throw away the plan.”
This is pandemic teaching—and, let’s face it, just plain teaching—in a nutshell, and it’s become something of a rallying cry for the many teachers I follow on TikTok. I’ll talk about each of the four steps in turn.
1. Make the plan.
As teachers and the adults in the virtual room, it’s our job to show up prepared. Since the very first day of HTF, we’ve talked about what makes a good lesson plan: clear and rigorous objectives; engaging and relevant activities; realistic timing; accessible directions with roles, rules, time, and turns. At the start of my residency, this was perhaps the most daunting part of my new role as educator, and I spent more than a few sleepless nights agonizing over the wording of a language objective or the grabbiness of a warmup activity. With practice and coaching, this part has become much easier, and with my knowledge of steps three and four, I now know how important it is to take my planning with a healthy grain of salt.
2. Execute the plan.
Repeated so frequently it’s become a cliche, the aphorism “80 percent of success is just showing up” has more than a little truth to it, especially in a time of crisis. Showing up to do the hard work, particularly on the days when you’re feeling drained or beaten down, is an achievement in and of itself. With expectations from schools, districts, and state governments shifting at a dizzying pace, “executing the plan”—whether it’s your own lesson plan or a distance learning strategy handed down from on high—takes guts and resilience.
3. Expect the plan to go off the rails.
This is the key step, folks. This is what it means to be a teacher. You have to make the plan while fully expecting that the plan will go off the rails. As educators, we do our best to expect the unexpected, but if nothing else, this pandemic has taught us that there are factors simply beyond our control. On March 13, we went into school expecting to encounter the usual variables: Relationship drama, trouble at home, frustration at yet another loss to the rival basketball team (go Hawks!). The following Monday, we were logging into Google Classroom trying out a whole new kind of teaching. To quote another viral TikTok meme, “It is what it is.”
4. Throw away the plan.
This step is humbling, but it must be done. Yesterday’s plans won’t work in today’s reality. Take a deep breath, sip your coffee, and throw the plans away.
Jonny Adler is a Cohort 4 fellow teaching eighth-grade humanities at Bronx Community Charter School. He has loved getting to know his students this year and promised one of them (Nyah) she’d get a shout-out in this post. In his free time, Jonny loves to run, cook, and watch TikTok videos—not all at once.