Something many pupils and students know, unfortunately. It is uncomfortable, embarrassing in front of the audience and might even have negative consequences (a bad grade or, worse, its reoccurrence at the next test situation).

Everybody hates it.

Yesterday it happened to me.

I was teaching and we were translating a text together. I have become confident enough to not always prepare and pre-translate every text anymore, which usually works well, but yesterday proved to be a mistake. It had been a stressful week with many committee meetings, a lot of admin, some exams and some private planning as well. This was my last lesson, the class were agitated and noisy due to an exam they’d written earlier and my powers of concentration were to a large extent gone, my brain addled.

I got stuck.

So stuck, in fact, that I couldn’t make any sense of the sentence before me at all.

So what do you do in a situation like this?

I decided to go for honesty, rather than trying to mask it. The class have known me for long enough. I apologised to my pupils, told them that this was my own personal little nightmare that had finally happened and suggested continuing with a different kind of exercise for the rest of the lesson, until next week, when I will have done my homework properly. They were really nice about it too: of course they laughed a bit and asked me how I expected them to be able to make sense of a text if I couldn’t do it, but they also said it didn’t matter to them and that it was actually reassuring seeing a teacher struggle with translation. All good.

Of course, after the bell had rung I looked at the sentence again and it immediately made sense and was not difficult at all anymore. This is how much our brain sometimes messes with us and how the intense and taxing atmosphere that sometimes developes in a classroom can influence us.

Two lessons learned: Be properly prepared. And when a pupil has a black-out consider the possibility that they might in fact be perfectly competent to solve a task; only not right now.