How being a high school teacher prepared me for the stress of wedding planning
Much like Carrie Bradshaw, I too believed that I was missing “the bride gene.” I thought all wedding dresses looked the same (white is not my color), wedding cakes tasted like frosted cardboard, and wedding playlists were cringeworthy. I never planned on getting married , and if I did get married, I wanted to be wearing a bikini at a beach wedding with my best friend’s dad barbecuing hamburgers nearby.
Yet life is full of surprises, and after my partner Paul popped the question, I realized I’d actually have to plan a wedding. My mother-in-law would kill me if I walked down the aisle in a bikini, so that option was out. My father would probably have a heart attack if I didn’t have some sort of celebration. Paul and I knew that we didn’t want a wedding to rival Harry and Meghan’s, but even on a much smaller scale, wedding planning is still complicated. (I almost imploded the first time I opened “The Knot.”) Endless tasks pop up throughout the process:
Engagement party. Colors. THE DRESS. Bridesmaids. Bridesmaids need gifts. Bridesmaids need dresses. Bridesmaids may have drama. I need a wedding #hashtag. Will my guests even realize I’m getting married without a hashtag? Food—guests need to eat. But Aunt Rachel is allergic to shellfish and my maid of honor is gluten-free. Are donuts or cronuts the more popular dessert right now? Oh, and guests want to get down! But I can’t play that song. Every wedding plays that song. My guests will hate that song.
The list went on and on.
"Like teaching, weddings have many variables: different guests with different tastes, lots of various tasks that need to be accomplished, and many questions that need to be answered."
I felt just as overwhelmed as I did during my first year of teaching high school English. When I was hit with the task of planning multiple units that needed to cater to dozens of different types of learners, I had to simultaneously consider many things:
Is the text too complex? Too easy? How can I teach it so students understand it? How many essay assignments are too many? What should my students write about? What if they didn’t read the book? What if they got in arguments with each other in class? How can they relate to a text that is over 100 years old?
Thankfully, supportive teachers shared their tips and techniques with me—and now I’m in my fourth year of teaching, adapting and changing my lesson plans yearly. Unlike teaching, you don’t (usually) get married every year, so you can’t keep tweaking the plans. But like teaching, weddings have many variables: different guests with different tastes, lots of various tasks that need to be accomplished, and many questions that need to be answered.
I realized that the easiest way to plan a wedding would be to treat it as I would a complex lesson plan, like so:
1. Start with backwards planning.
When planning a major unit for a class, you have to first think about what you are guiding your students toward—is it a major test? An essay? What kind of essay? Or is it a super major test, like the ACT or SAT? Essentially, it’s key to make sure that all of the lessons throughout the semester are geared toward that one thing.
The same goes with wedding planning. The overall big event is clearly the wedding and reception, so you will want to start with that, then plan backwards. You are clearly having a wedding and ceremony, so some basic questions need to be answered about the wedding: How many people are coming? Are the ceremony and reception in the same place? Do this BEFORE you begin planning all the small details. If you start with the small details (such as the colors or flowers), you will lose sight of the overall big picture.
2. But don’t neglect the small details.
When planning lessons for a major test, it’s easy to forget little details. For instance, when planning lessons focused on the ACT, I often forget to teach semicolons. That pesky piece of punctuation isn’t used often in writing, but it does appear about eight million times on the ACT. If I don’t teach semicolons, my students will not understand those questions, and their score will suffer. So even though I may not like teaching them because they’re an unimportant detail to me, I have to do it for my students’ sake.
When planning a wedding, it’s easy to get caught up in some of the major parts: the dress, the main dishes, the venue. But don’t forget the semicolons. Those little details will be noticed by your guests—from the color of your flowers to a signature drink. Sometimes these details are also some of the least expensive. Thanks to the miracle of Pinterest, there are tons of ideas for how to create unique floral arrangements yourself. Remember that the semicolons are easy to forget, but they can also make your wedding special and feel more like you.
3. Creating seating charts is akin to preventing a bomb from detonating.
As a teacher, crafting seating charts is like playing a game of chess. Which two friends cannot be seated anywhere near each other or else they will spend the entire class loudly singing to one other? Which two kids have massive beef with each other so sitting anywhere in close proximity will guarantee a Real Housewives-style throwdown? Which two kids are now dating and will force the whole class to watch them attempt a reenactment from the latest love scene from Riverdale if they’re neighbors? Seating charts are puzzles with multiple moving pieces, where you jot down notes next to each name regarding their relationships to others in the class and who they can realistically sit next to without having a meltdown.
The same goes for crafting a seating chart for your wedding. If your family is like mine, there are probably a few members who cannot be seated anywhere near each other or else they will start throwing tables. In order to avoid this chaos, try writing down the names of each guest, noting what their relationship is to other guests: Do they know anyone? If not, should they be put next to someone vivacious and lively? Do they have a visceral hatred of another guest? How separated can you make them? Do you secretly want to play matchmaker with your favorite cousin and your cool co-worker? (Fun fact: Teachers do this with students who they think will like each other.) It’s a task that shouldn’t be left until the last minute. Like any complex puzzle, it will take time to solve.
4. You may have to differentiate parts of your wedding for certain guests.
One of the problems in education is the idea of a “one size fits all” approach to teaching. This idea is bogus, as everyone learns differently and has different strengths. To ease this problem, there has been a big push in “differentiation,” in which different students have the same task—crafting an argument—but they may go about in different ways. For instance, one student may write an essay, while the other will lead a debate.
This idea can apply to your guests. Keep in mind that it is your wedding, so there is no need (nor is it possible) to differentiate every aspect for every single guest. But there are some attendees who may need different options, and it is polite to consider their needs. For instance, if you are planning to serve roast pork, keep in mind that you do need another option if you have a guest whose religion forbids eating pork. If you have a guest who is allergic to gluten, it’s probably best to have a hearty salad option for them. You are providing these guests with the same goal (in this case, dinner), but you are offering different options that will best suit their needs. It would be terrible to go to a wedding and not be able to enjoy any of the delicious food or fun, so keep those guests in mind.
5. Reach out for help.
Every great teacher knows to beg, borrow, and steal lessons and assignments from other teachers (there are dozens of websites and message boards dedicated to this). Teaching simply can’t be done without the support of other teachers, and neither can wedding planning. Don’t be afraid to delegate certain tasks to your wedding party—that’s what they’re there for. Some of the best wedding decor might be on Pinterest, and there are hundreds of wedding groups across all forms of social media where you can ask for dress ideas, vendor suggestions, advice for interacting with difficult guests, etc. Just as there is a solid community of teachers, there is also a solid community of brides who need just as much help as you do.
6. Have fun!
Although lesson planning can be quite stressful, I do enjoy it. It’s a challenge to craft units that will engage all of my students and teach them what they need to learn. Wedding planning is also its own unique challenge, but that doesn’t mean it has to be daunting. Remember that it’s your wedding, not your mom’s, or aunt’s, or best friend’s. It’s yours—so enjoy your own special day.