Theory and Practice in a New School Year

There’s a quote I’ve always loved, though I don’t recall who said it, which says, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” Having just begun my fourth year of teaching, and my first in working with junior high students, I’ve already been reminded of this saying many times.

In the week leading up to the return of students to our classroom, we had what is commonly called “contract week,” the week where we do various trainings and classroom setups and welcome our new staff members. I spent much of the week working on refining my classroom procedures, trying to make sure that the classroom will run as smoothly as possible. I’ve outlined everything from how they enter the room to passing in papers to asking questions, even how they can get a new pencil when theirs breaks.

All that remained this past Wednesday was to welcome back the children, and bask in the perfection. Now, obviously, anyone who has taught, been a parent, or met a child can already see, no doubt, the sarcasm dripping from that statement. In truth, once the students entered the classroom, all the plans changed and nothing went quite according to plan. What follows is a fairly quick(by my standards, anyway), two point list of takeaways from the classroom that I think apply across the board to life in general.

1. Plans changed are not plans wasted. Yes, the plans I made didn’t last long, but I still put myself in position to succeed, because I had a starting point, a goal, and a firm base to start from. If I were just “winging it,” I’d have been stuck rudderless with no clear way to judge what changes were needed.

2. Flexibility in plans is key. It’s important to know that the plan is a starting structure, not a predetermined reality. Being prepared to adapt the plan when it crashes against reality is our only real hope.

Obviously, I’m far from an expert. I’m entering my fourth year, which means I’ve got years to go yet before I really know what I’m doing. I’m learning, though, and I’ll keep sharing what I’m learning as we go.

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