My melt down

Blogging is cathartic, it liberates you. Big phrases eh? Well, blogging for me is like writing in my own professional diary!! So, here is my melt down. Here is my story. It ain’t pretty.

Have you ever had a lesson that was your “worst lesson ever” ?OK, so keep that in mind. Now, think of how that lesson could have been worse. Do you have the image in your head? OK, so I am trying to create an atmosphere. Get your mug of coffee and read on.

I had one of those lessons the other day. One of those lessons where you feel like it can’t get worse than this!! The  bad-est lesson eva! I think the word badest needs to exist cause you get bad and then the suffix -est accentuates it!

So, I, the super duper teacher, sat on my super duper chair, in front of my super duper pc to give a super duper online grammar lesson. I do consider myself kinda a grammar queen. I thrive when it comes to teaching grammar or do I?

My learner hates grammar. He is a B1 level adult learner and we have online lessons once a week. My learner has said this (I hate grammar) many, many times, but this learner ended up requesting a grammar lesson, and we had one. It was an overview of the tenses. Unfortunately, this grammar overview did not end in one teaching hour. We had to finish it off in the next lesson. My learner was fine with that. Second grammar lesson day came. Everything was going great until the learner got tired of the lesson and half way through decided he was not going to move to the production stage. The question I asked was, ” What did you eat yesterday?” No answer. In fact, my learner said, ” I want to think about this”

Me: ” OK”

Learner: ……. thinking….. thinking……

4 mins later

Learner: ” No, I cannot answer this question. I have not revised the tenses.”

Me: “Oh! That’s OK. Don’t worry about mistakes. I just want to see how you talk about things that happened yesterday, in the past.”

Learner: “No. I haven’t revised”.

Me: ” OK. Let’s talk about something else then. What will you do on the weekend?”

Learner: ” I cannot answer the question because I have not revised the grammar”.

Me…. starting to sweat in my super duper chair. I needed to do something otherwise we would have a staring contest….. online.What did I do? I completely changed the lesson. I dropped the questions cause I felt like a dentist pulling out my learners tooth and moved on to an article based lesson. We read an article and answered a few questions that were based on the article.

The lesson came to an end and we both went our separate ways. I went and made a big cup off coffee and grabbed a box of cookies. I was going to eat my sorrow and think.


Maybe I shouldn’t have turned a one hour lesson into a two hour grammar lesson with this particular learner. I should have treated the lesson like a Band-Aid and pulled it off quickly, but I am not a rush- rush teacher. I spend time on tasks and timing as in, sticking to the lesson plan/syllabus,  is not as important as understanding.

When my learner said, ” I don’t want to talk because I haven’t revised” I should have gotten the message. My learner actually is not very talkative and gets frustrated when I correct mistakes anyhow. Big mistake Joanna!! Seriously, what were you thinking?!?!?!?!

Maybe I should have done more controlled tense practice activities like gap filling. Well, my excuse here is that I panicked. I heard no to a simple question ( simple in my mind) and then stopped thinking clearly.

I think changing the focus of the lesson, allowing the learner to revise, and moving on to something completely different was the best solution in this case. This was an online lesson, so I could not  move around and ‘see’ my learner. Difficult teaching moments can be a bit more difficult when online. If I was in a class and saw that my learner was frustrated, I would stand up and say, ” OK! Let’s go outside and take a breather”.

I so dread the next lesson with this learner because he said he will revise and then he wants to do some more grammar. I think I will try to find a few alternatives though, just in case!!!

In retrospect, I think I still do not know how to properly react when a learner says, “I don’t want to do this”. Especially when this is something we have done as an ice breaker/warmer/chitchat, but never as a production stage of a grammar lesson.

Reflecting in front of the beach (Chania, Crete)

Reflecting in front of the beach (Chania, Crete)


I need to reflect…….

A few weeks later I wrote a blog post about what I ended up doing with this learner in the following lesson. If you want to read that post, press here

Till next time…..


18 thoughts on “My melt down

  1. I think you did a great job, Joanna. You reflected on the experience and decided to take action. These things happen in class, especially when you are over-prepared and over-confident but your students just don’t feel the same way. I had a great activity planned for today’s lesson, but eventually, it didn’t go very well – simply because the students weren’t on the same wavelength. In retrospect, my lesson almost seems a waste of time. These things just happen….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Hana!!
      Thanks for stopping by and the warm words. I know these things happen and will happen, but they are still moments that stick in our head and make us wonder. Learners are different and they may not always be in the mood for whatever I have planned. I think I need to make a bigger plan B folder on my PC for my online lessons!!!
      See you soon (online somewhere).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Hana – you did really well! It can be frustrating when things don’t go as wel planned, but sometimes that’s just the way it is. Hope the coffee and cookies helped 🙂


  3. I don’t teach online courses, so I sadly can’t say I share your pain on that front! But in other ways, I think I know how you feel. But, just remember: this was ONE lesson! How many others have you taught that have gone well? And how many are still to come which you can also make great?! I think you reacted in the way I would have… but reflecting back on the situation will no doubt mean that you are better armed to deal with tricky situations like this if they do occur in future.
    Sounds to me like this learner just needs a confidence boost reagrding tenses – if the dialogue in your post is really what he says, sounds like he’s got present perfect nailed! 🙂 So maybe the trick is to sneakily hide the tenses review in other work, e.g. based on a text (if that’s the kind of thing he feels comfortable with), and after he’s completed the tasks supposedly based on the text, highlight all the tenses/aspects he has correctly used and explain together why that tense/aspect was used in each case – then you can say “See, you CAN do it!”.
    I hope you enjoyed your cookies… but don’t let this one melt down hold you back… you CAN do it! 🙂


    • Hi Clare,
      Thanks for stopping by. I have been teaching for many years f2f, but only a few online. I think that ‘frustrating’ situations can be a bit more challenging in this context and this lesson was a big eye opener!!
      You are right, I think that with this learner, I am going to approach grammar and grammar mistakes in a more indirect way. Texts as you mentioned are a great way to do that!!!
      I am sure the next lesson will be much better than this ‘floppy’ one.
      Thanks for all the suggestions and words of support 😀


  4. This doesn’t sound that much like YOUR melt down. Lots of what happens in the classroom is beyond the teacher’s control, so don’t feel like it reflects on you if something bad like this happens.

    I often get told ‘I don’t want to do this’ by my learners, they’re really young so I’m allowed to say ‘you HAVE to do it’. The other response might be something like ‘what do you want to do then?’ If it’s something that is still educational, you’re all set. If I have to teach a class something but they don’t like that kind of activity I’ll often hide it inside another. One class hates writing, but if they draw a picture then write about it they don’t mind at all, even though it’s the same amount of writing.


    • Hi Timothy,
      Thanks for leaving a comment 😀
      I think in this case “you have to do it for this and that reason ” would not work cause my learner can press a button and end the lesson!!!Also, this learner seems a bit … moody (?!) That would not be good :p
      I totally agree that ” what do you want to do?” is a better approach and having lots of plan Bs!!!
      Talk soon.



  5. Joanna you certainly did well in this one. Changing the focus at the time and reflecting upon it afterwards is what I think most of us would have done. You’ll definitely be better prepared for the next lesson with that learner.
    We can’t always anticipate Everything that could go wrong, especially when it comes to online lessons, I can totally relate to that ”Difficult teaching moments can be a bit more difficult when online.”
    It does take a little bit of trickery, some sort of disguise, when we’re faced with ”I don’t want to do this” reactions, both f-2-f and online. I’m all for talking things through, explaining why and how things should be done, but sometimes we just have to make it happen. Some drilling could work. Depending on the functions you attempt to teach, I’d go with realia. Use what the learner has got around him/her, what you can see or know is around them.
    Extra points:
    I love badest. Would go with double d, just on principle!
    Coffee and cookies? The best 🙂


  6. Hi Christina!!!
    Thanks for leaving a comment and your suggestions!! I have already thought of what I am going to do with this learner and I have my plan B folder almost ready!!!!
    As for badest, you are right. If the word existed, it would probably need a double d, but then the double d would take away the beauty of the word “bad” so for this post, can I please keep bad-est ? : :p. Or maybe this can be an irregular form like …… shyest?
    Only in a teacher’s blog, would two teachers have a conversation about the spelling of a non existent word 😀
    I ❤ blogging!!!

    Talk soon,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loved the post Joanna and had to comment 😀 I’m sure you’re more than well prepared for round two with that learner! You’re so right, definitely keep bad-est for this one and as many as you like (though I don’t wish any more like this on you). The spelling of non existent words seems somehow as a new form of art, haha!


  7. Hi Joanna, great post. We’ve all had moments where things didn’t go the same way as it did in the imaginary classroom in our heads. 🙂

    I wasn’t sure if I could say anything productive but I watched a film the other day that offered something.

    The main character was very organised and very efficient but he goes through a personal crisis and has to decide things on a whim. So he writes out 3 index cards. One thing on each index card and then he shuffled them and picked one at random.

    I was thinking that this could be used to negotiate a new direction in the lesson with the student.

    1 card could be the lesson topic. (If picked, the student tries again)
    1 card could be your plan B.
    1 card could be the student’s choice.

    You could shuffle the cards and let the student pick the lesson topic at random. Maybe they would give it a go if it was left to chance.

    Not sure if that is any help.

    Gambatte for the next lesson 🙂


    • Hi Tekhnologik,
      Thanks for all the suggestions and for commenting. I will try the card idea. I liked it. The only difference is that I will have to make PPT slides instead of cards(this was an online lesson)!!!
      I know we have all hard difficult moments. teaching is not just a bunch of successful teaching moments. there are some bad ones as well. Just got to reflect and move on to the next lesson 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jamie,
      Thanks for saying my voice is engaging. I often feel that I am borderline sarcastic in my posts, and while I try to be funny, I don’t know if I always succeed, so reading a comment about my blogging voice is always something that makes me happy 🙂
      I just wrote what many of us have actually faced in class. What was really challenging for me was that this was an online lesson!! But………tomorrow is a new day and we can’t live in the past. So, reflecting and moving on is, in my view, the best way to go.
      Thanks again,


  8. Pingback: A sweaty moment | How I see it now

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s