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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Teaching Mistakes--Do Not Repeat!

After 25 years of teaching, I've made my fair share of mistakes.  The trouble with teaching mistakes is that they affect children, the very people we are there to serve. Most of my mistakes as an educator have been related to unrealistic expectations for myself and others.  High expectations are good, while unrealistic ones only lead to frustration and error. Some mistakes stand out, and I hope by sharing my experiences with you, particularly those of you who are new teachers, I'll prevent you from making similar errors.  Here goes:
  1. When a situation becomes challenging, ask a question or take time out to reflect.  If a parent, colleague, or administrator confronts you and you feel pressure, don't be afraid to ask a clarifying question or simply state, "I need to think about that, can we meet again to discuss it."  No one has all the answers, and with respectful dialogue most situations end with a comfortable compromise.
  2. Never raise your voice.  Most of us have done that, and it's useless except in the rare occasion when a true emergency is at hand and a strong voice is needed to alert others.  Again, if you feel emotions rising, take a break.
  3. Don't do it alone.  During challenging discussions and events, enlist the support of an administrator, union representative, colleague or other support person.  Often, two minds are better than one when it comes to complex situations.  Plus, your colleague can help you to understand the situation with greater clarity.
  4. Don't blame or accuse students.  Children will make mistakes and act inappropriately.  The best teachers always make the time to have a private talk with a child when he/she errs. It's best to start with the question, "Why did that happen?"  Then follow up with a discussion, steps for the future and possibly a logical consequence.  Again, seek the help of an administrator, colleague, guidance counselor or other support personnel when needed.
  5. You're not superman or superwoman.  As much as you'd like to do it all for every child in every situation, at times that will be impossible.  Don't pressure yourself to be all things, instead prioritize and choose the most essential items and do a good job with those starting with building a caring, cooperative classroom.  Don't work more, work smarter.
  6. Take your time.  Current standards can send teachers into a flurry as they try to complete it all.  Studies show that it's actually impossible to meet all the standards set in some situations.  A too hurried pace makes the entire class uncomfortable, and heightens the potential for error.
  7. Respect.  Sometimes with the hurried pace and multiple demands of school life, it can be difficult to understand the roles, needs and challenges students and colleagues face.  Use respect at all times.  Also, if you're faced with disrespect from colleagues, parents or students, enlist the support of trusted colleagues and/or administrators.
  8. Make all decisions with the lens of what's best for children.  Educators make many decisions each day.  Taking the time to make your decisions with the lens of what's best for children will foster professional strength, ethics and effort.
Will I continue to make mistakes?  Definitely.  Education always presents new challenges and complexities.  No two years are alike and there's always more to learn.  Keeping the focus of kindness and respect for all first will prevent the big mistakes, the kind that hurt others.  

No one likes to admit they've erred, but hopefully these tips will help you to have a successful year.  If you have a mistake you'd like to share in an effort to prevent others from repeating it, please do.  We all learn from our mistakes.