Best Teaching Tip – The Back Pocket Plan

Le_Chat_30April12_025_copyAfter teaching for years, I know to be prepared for the unexpected, so I always carry a spiral notebook in my back pocket. On it, I have a list activities for those times when the lesson does not go as planned due to faulty technology, essay eating hobgoblins and the never fail, « I can’t present today my group member is sick. »

Kids today are so clever. They must toss a virtual coin on Facebook the night before a group oral presentations are due to decide which member of the team should be absent the next day.

Teachers become adept at thinking off the top of their head, seat of their pants and back of their eyeballs. Since my students weren’t ready, I resorted to the pack pocket plan. I led a discussion about how the weather echoes human emotions in the text we were studying. Then I opened the blinds and told them to stare out the window and write for 10 minutes about this typical dreary fall day. Write about whatever comes to mind regarding weather, how you feel when looking out the window today, how the rainy autumn affects your mood, how you dream of escaping this dreary classroom.

Educational studies show that students learn best when they see the teacher looking at a book during reading time or writing along with them during a writing assignment. I pulled out my pocket notebook and began scribbling.

At the end of 10 minutes, a few brave souls timidly read their pieces of work. Then I think as a ploy to save unwilling classmates, they insisted I read mine. So I began…

« This weather stinks. Rainy. Cloudy. Cold. Old man winter is coming round cloaking us in a death vice. I am sick of the foggy gloom that is November. I am tired of seeing the faded, grey view from my dark tinted glasses. I am weary from too much work and too little time. I want to crawl under my soft, lumpy duvet and hibernate until spring, but I can’t. My students are waiting with eager, smiling faces, fidgety and restless, full of life. So I put on a happy face and greet my class with a grin. They bring me enough light and laughter to endure the autumn blues. »

Bless their generous little hearts, when I finished reading, the class burst into applause. Right on time one ginger-headed boy, deadpanned, « You must have been writing about your other class. »

We burst out laughing just as the dismissal bell rang ending the school day.Le_Chat_30April12_022_copy

And that is why I love teaching.

What is your best back pocket plan?

Posted in family, humor, inspiration, relationships, social view.


  1. Nice one Pat! My simplest back pocket plan with adults is to ask them what they think… or to have them chat in 2s about the reading or policy we are examining… I get a breather and they get to do all the work for a change. I know this is good practice, encouraging higher order thinking, but I always feel so guilty standing there or sitting there listening to them. Some are on task, others talk about the night before or how they are ever going to pass the next assignment as they are so time poor. I don’t mind, as long as we have these social and reflective moments, and then I bring it all back together again with the plenary when I have remembered where we were going or supposed to be going. Sometimes I feel like a puppeteer with my adults – they have no idea that I can read them like a book, then pull a string and they respond, teaching is a consciously unconscious process after all these years in the trade. Like you, I often model things for my students (but online) and give them bits of my own writing to chew over… I think these are the things they like best of all as I see chunks being quoted in their assignments! This human side of teaching with energy and soul connections is a joy even after all these years. You are a great teacher Pat, and I would love to be a fly on the wall at La Chat in your inspiring English classes. Hugs, Rach xxx

    • What are you teaching now, Rach? I think you mentioned that you are training teachers. You sure taught me a lot when I first moved to Switzerland. The girl with 2 left feet finally learned how to stay on beat, thanks to you. I still have your aerobic & step workouts. Wish you lived closer, so we could meet for a cuppa and exchange our ideas. Where would we be without the human connection in teaching. So glad we stayed in contact across the miles.

      • Hi Pat, yes I do miss my lovely ‘old’ friends like you. We had a wonderful connection. You are my kinda female friend. Spiritual, honest and such fun! I am glad my aerobic and step workouts live on en Suisse and that you have learned from them. I am teaching all sorts of stuff now, in blended mode (half online, half face-to-face). My key areas are health, well-being and physical education – 2nd and 3rd year Education undergrads. Next year I am moving to teach more first years (not my choice as they seem sooo young!) and working on a lot of high school-type science in relation to PE – biomechanics, anatomy, etc. I will enjoy teaching such things through practicals – lots of gymnastics! Are you all still teaching my gymnastics schemes in years 7-11 too at La Chat? I sold those schemes eventually to a classroom resources company. Did I ever send you a copy of my FMS book? If you teach primary kids you might find it helpful. I can’t remember if I gave you a copy or not… Thanks for the cyber cuppa writing partner. I have just finished designing some curriculum for Egypt in PE, so I am still enjoying the international life in my spare writing time. It is my meditation… Hugs across the miles, Rach xx

  2. Brilliant plan, Pat! It reminds me of the mantra I followed during my teaching years: “Fill your head and be yourself.” You obviously captured the minds and hearts of your students. I have a feeling they will remember this for a long time to come. My best back pocket plan? Anytime I’d share a part of myself, whether it be personal or professional, my nursing students would engage. Fostering interaction where they connected to their own stories seemed to be the key. I love your story.

    • Yes, Kathy, it is true. The more we share of ourselves as humans, the more our students are willing to open up. This is especially true in an English class where writing exposes so much of the inner self.

  3. Way to go, Pat! I love how what could have been a dreary lesson on a dreary day turned into a spot of sunshine for you and your students. Some might call it good ole American ingenuity, but I prefer to think of it as just you being yourself — sharing, illuminating, encouraging — and making a memorable lesson for this group of kids!

    • “Sharing, illuminating, encouraging” thanks for those words, Debbie. That will be my mantra on the next dark, dreary day when I am weary from the relentless school pace and the long, gray winter.

  4. Love it…it’s interesting…I carry a spiral little notebook in my purse…when I am in thoughts or need to write down not to forget I use that spiral notebook…

  5. Now that is precious! and that’s why you’re the teacher:) Thanks for supplying us with a bit of sunshine and laughter, Pat!


  6. Loved this! Reminded me of my teaching days…I would have a 10 minute Personal Writing time and I always wrote. The first few days I would write a story about the 2nd grade class on a field trip and then share it. My reluctant writers always used that model and were so proud they had a story to share.

    • Barb, this is so sweet. You were so far ahead of the game. You already knew the magical tricks to connect to and inspire kids long before they came out with all these educational theories.

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