Do Blank Stares Mean I Have Failed? A Teachable Moment

Apr 23, 2018 | Posted by Michelle


Moments prior to having eight peering and baffled faces staring at me with astonished eyes, I had proudly declared today’s Latin class was going to start out with good old-fashioned review. First and second person pronouns, first and second declension adjectives, and a few other helpful parts of speech were on this class’s docket. I had a mighty list of items to tackle and was determined to effectively accomplish it all with every single student understanding everything perfectly. Ah, ‘tis true—pride goeth before the fall.

I wasn’t hoping for the impossible. I wasn’t expecting my students to shout for joy when they heard the news. Rather, I was optimistic they would step up to the challenge, amaze me with how much they could recall, and enjoy doing it! Not too high of expectations, right? The reality hit me like an unavoidable train. I received confused faces and half-asleep eyes. What on earth is a First Person Pronoun!? And how am I supposed to know what an Er Adjective is?? were the unuttered pleas in the room. This evoked two terrifying thoughts in my mind: My lesson plan was out the window, and I must be an awful teacher since they don’t remember these terms. There was no doubt about it, I had failed.

Being head of a classroom, one has to roll with the punches. Lesson plans are absolutely important, but what is more valuable (and much more effective in the long run) is teaching at the point of need. Immediately, my agenda was cut in half. Assessing the situation, I hunkered down and started asking questions. As Andrew Pudewa always says, “You can’t get something out of a brain that isn’t in there to begin with.” I knew the students could recall the requested information, but occasionally it takes a while for them to recover it. Fast forward twenty or thirty minutes later, and the room was sounding in chorus as we practiced the Latin endings. It may have taken twice as long as I had planned for, but at least it happened. This quieted my first thought.

But, wasn’t I still a failure? Shouldn’t they already have been able to perfectly recite these? Should I have prepared my agenda items more carefully? Sure, there is an element of truth to all of these questions. Perhaps I should have reviewed these terms more often. I could have done better—I admit it. But that doesn’t equal failure.

It’s easy to feel inadequate when your class doesn’t “measure up” to the workbook. After a few spiraling, depressing moments of gloom, I realized that by the end of that hour-long class, they knew more than they did an hour previous. They could recite the requested declensions. Maybe it wasn’t perfectly on schedule or by the book, but that was where they were. It was where I was. In that moment I realized that blank stares do not reflect teacher failures—they reflect opportunities for growth.


Michelle Robinson started out working in Production and as a marketing assistant, but now enjoys working with the Customer Service Department. Having been homeschooled her whole life, Michelle had the opportunity to compete in a homeschool speech and debate league. Because she is a Latin scholar, Michelle has been asked to teach that subject to the local homeschooling community. Michelle is passionate about photography, her friends, and her faith.

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