The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

The Best-Laid Schemes

When it comes to poetry, I am becoming more and more a fan of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. I once heard someone recite a poem by him in the Scottish accent that was contemporary to the author. It was fantastically wonderful! I admit that I am not well-versed in all of his works, but there is one poem, that is probably one of his most famous, that always captures my attention: To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough. The stanza near the end is especially dear to me:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

I am reading a book by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Mighty Miss Malone, and the line about things going “aft agley” is a common theme. The main character of the story, Deza Malone, often wonders what it means for things to go “aft agley.” By the end of the story, though, she figures it out.

I see things go aft agley quite often as a teacher. Despite all of my best-laid schemes, things have a way of going completely askew without me really getting a chance to right them in advance. Today is just one example. I had planned on giving my students a math test this afternoon, as we have finished our mini-unit in geometry on quadrilaterals. I made copies of the exam early, had everything ready, made sure we had plenty of time, passed them out, and got my class started on the simple 10-question exam that we had reviewed for.

And then someone pointed out that the answers were visible on the paper.

You see, teachers’ editions of assessment materials have the answers printed on the page, often in light blue or pink, so that they don’t get copied by the machine. Unless, of course, the machine is super-sensitive and picks up everything. Which, apparently, our photocopier does. Well, I couldn’t just leave my class to make new copies, and I didn’t have a back-up plan for the period of time for the test, and I also didn’t want to just waste the time we had. So I asked my students to treat it as a practice test, do it on their own, and then use the faintly-printed answers to check their work.

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley!

It all worked out in the end and we will be able to move onward, ever onward next week, but, you know, that is one of the secrets to teaching: you have to just go with the flow, adjust as needed, and always remember that tomorrow is another day!


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