Too Close to the Sun

James King Uncategorized

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As I explained in my first blog post on this site, I’m not a normal teacher; I’m a cool teacher.  And I felt extra cool on day one of my second year. This is a flashback to a year ago; I’m obviously wiser now.  

While everyone else was playing the same name-game or filling out index cards, I would dare to be different: I would create an impactful lesson that the kids would love, remember forever, and that we could point back to as a metaphor for learning and teaching styles the whole year. Plus every student was gonna go home with a souvenir to commemorate their first day of high school! I, again – and I can’t stress this enough, am a cooooool teacher!

You can imagine my despair when I failed in an epic manner during my first hour; I tried again my second class just to fail once more. Like Icarus, I was trying to fly too high and too near the Sun. My wax melted, and I came crashing down.

I had such delusions of grandeur that I was not realistic with time, or my ability to teach 35 unique learners the same exact process. I also neglected that freshmen would indeed get lost. Due to our schools freshman orientation program, actual class time was limited to 15 minutes.

My “lesson” was teaching them how to fold paper cranes. Just like Icarus, these cranes would too crash. My first class, I was on step 5 of 17 when the dismissal bell rang. Heartbroken and flustered, I tried to go quicker during second period, and left kids behind who had questions. So, at the end of two classes, my first thought I didn’t understand clocks, and my second thought I didn’t care about their success. Two epic failures down, I greeted my last three classes of a stand up routine about how terrible I am at teaching paper folding. They were not amused, but I wasn’t gonna try the bad lesson, and I had nothing else planned.

In a word: embarrassing.

Credibility was lost. And I lost it with all 5 classes. I spent weeks earning that credibility back.

This year went much better for a number of reasons. First, I learned my lesson and let go of the delusion that I could possibly deliver THE COOLEST lesson ever in a restricted class period. (Also: can you imagine thinking that folding paper is THE COOLEST idea?) Next, I worked with my PLC to craft a useful intro activity that was admittedly less flashy, but was something students could engage in and complete.

In the end, I learned a few valuable lessons on that day. Chief among them, I am not too cool to work with my team and get practical ideas that can actually work.

This year, my colleagues and I let our students brainstorm where they excel, where they want to improve, and they wrote goals. Students wrote a goal for the year, a goal for high school, and a bigger goal to achieve after they graduate.

We hope to come back to the goals throughout the year for interesting reflections, journals, and conversations. Everything went smoothly and we had 100% engagement. What more could we ask for?

Oh – and to conclude my year two saga, you should know all my freshmen last year made paper cranes on the last day of freshman year with success. We had enough time to complete it plus I knew my class well enough to help the stragglers and utilize peers to support one another. I kept one bird from each class, gave it a name and hung it up in my room. It makes me smile every time I glance toward my paper aviary.

This year, we will soar… But maybe not so high this time.


Addendum: After posting this and reflecting I want to be clear that I think bold decisions and thinking out of the box are  good things! We should all push boundaries and try new things; however, for me, this lesson taught me how to better assess situations and made me better prepared for a new school year.


Do you have any cringe-worthy classroom blunders you care to share? What did you learn from your catastrophe?



My favorite words are “dapper” and “adventure.” With an unkempt proclivity, I manage to exemplify only one of these words into my classroom every day. The reason I chose English is simple: adventure lives in books. I get to take students wading into the Mediterranean, strolling along the Mississippi, or hiking the Himalayas without leaving their desks. I teach at my alma mater, after using 12 years to explore the world – beyond the verse, poetry, and prose I adore. I spent time traveling Central, and North America, The Caribbean, and Europe. I worked at Walt Disney World for many years, ultimately overseeing training for 50,000 employees. Entertaining and serving guests from all around the world, I also trained and managed international employees. I was a substitute teacher in the nation’s third-largest school district for 4 years and graduated from the University of Central Florida. My education degree emphasized English, Communication, and Commerce; this assisted me in obtaining English Language Arts and Career and Technical teaching certifications here in Arizona. Aside from grading, reading, tweeting (@PhxJayKing), and blogging, I also sponsor a surprising popular Book Club on campus, and you might find me playing sand volleyball any given night of the week.

Comments 6

  1. Susan Collins

    James this is awesome! You are so right, we MUST dare greatly, our students deserve that! And in doing so we WILL experience failure. The beauty here is in the reflection and refinement! Keep being the “cool teacher.”

  2. Austine Etcheverry

    I really enjoyed reading this blog. I absolutely believe it is through our failures that help us find the greatest success . If you had not tried to implement this lesson you may not have had to spend time gaining back the trust of your students, but now you have a ton of tools to use when a student comes in your room and doesn’t trust easily. And while it didn’t come up I’m sure you had students who saw the triumphant attempt, failure & get back on your feet scenario and they too learned valuable lessons about how to come back from a lesson that went wrong.

  3. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I am totally sharing this. I love the possibilities for spontaneous ideas in the classroom, but I, too, am guilty of diving in before I consider all of the variables thoroughly. It’s great to have a group of like-minded professionals you can share these “ooooops” moments with who will support you in improving your practice… without judgement!

  4. Rachel Perugini

    Every year I rethink my 1st day plan and try new things; this year, I stuck with what I did last year and loved it again. No syllabus; get kids talking; start setting them expectation that participation is a must in my room. There are some 1st days that I’ve hated, but this is one is a lesson I think I’ll keep coming back to. I’m sure you’ll find something that is just as innovative, but also realistic for the constraints being thrown at you.

  5. Jen Robinson

    Hi James,
    Thanks for sharing this piece. As an administrator I love that took a bold idea and went with it. You pushed boundaries and most importantly – you learned from your experience. There will always to lessons and activities that play out amazingly in our heads and crash in front of live scholars. I applaud you for reflecting and adjusting. Here’s to the best year yet!

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