One of my odd skills as a teacher is that the less I prepare, the better I usually am at my job.
One of my former colleagues called this form of teaching the “golden doorknob method”. This means that as soon as you touch the doorknob and open the door, the lesson suddenly comes to you and you put on a lesson that’s one part improvisation and one part pure luck.
Part of the secret is to always act as if what you’re doing was always part of the plan. For example, on a couple occasions in the past, as a result of bad note taking, I’ve started to write a lesson on the board only to have a student point out that they’d already done that the class before.
My usual response is something resembling a smile followed by “I know. I’m just trying to scare you” (whilst hiding my shock and fear lest the students see the former and smell the latter). At that point I give the students a short assignment that keeps them busy long enough for me to scribble together a plan on whatever piece of paper happens to be available.
Other tricks I’ve learned, when I’m not sure what has gone before, involve an impromptu “book check” where I grab the textbooks of my better students and see which parts of the book had been completed in past classes.
The most difficult situations, oddly, often involve plans. Despite my advanced preparation, no matter how slowly I work through a lesson,it often happens that a class burns through everything and finishes all the work 20 minutes before the end of class. They then, in only five minutes, burn through the extra assignment brought in case they finished early.
You may remember, back when you were a student, how slowly the final five minutes of a class seemed to take. I assure you, fifteen minutes is a lot worse when you’re a teacher.
This even happened at the demo lesson I gave at the open house of the school where I work. My entire lesson was over with 20 minutes to spare and I made a big “I meant to do that” performance and had them turn the speeches they’d done into conversations with a partner. (Remember, there were parents watching all this.)
Of course, every now and then these skills fail. That’s when it’s time for a short rest and/or writing assignment.