Friday, April 17, 2020

To err is human!

I have students in some of my courses blog and find it a great reflective tool for them - we both learn a lot. Saying that, I am not very good at blogging myself. I started strong when this blog was created for a course in my doctoral program, but have certainly not been consistent. I will post more about the blogging assignment in a later post though. I often find ideas I have had have been expressed so well by others, or some other reason, usually procrastination, keeps me from posting. I hope to change that a bit, this particular post I was going to write about one year ago. At the end of last May, ManACE (Manitoba Association for Computing Educators - a group of educators I belong to) held our annual general meeting. To add a twist we had a number of people present short narratives of times in our careers that we screwed up (read: f***ed up) and what we learned as a result. I was one of those presenters and I thought I would share that story here.

So this story goes way back, back to my first student teaching experience. I have learned a lot in my long career as an educator. If I retire when I hope to, it will be 43 years in classrooms, including grades K to 12 and post-secondary. 

35 mm film projector
Photo by 
Noom Peerapong on Unsplash
This lesson came early in my career, and was an important one for a not yet certified teacher. This took place in my first student teaching session, in November of 1977  (yes, 1977 - Star Wars: A New Hope Came to theatres, the Apple II just came out, the Concorde flew its first commercial flight, the space shuttle had its first test flight, Voyagers 1 and 2 launched, and Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister) this was a lesson I learned early that carried throughout my career. I was young - 22 years old - and pretty shy, introverted, and lacking self-confidence.

 I just finished my first term of teacher education, at that time a 1-year program, I knew how to use a 35 mm film projector and how to use an overhead projector - properly! I planned my lessons carefully, so I was set, or so I thought.

Time came for my first-ever lesson, it was grade 11 chemistry, and it went …  badly.  I was nervous beyond belief and totally f***** up, I was very embarrassed and disappointed with myself, so much so that I was ready to quit then and there.

Luckily, I had a great, caring, cooperating teacher.  He took me aside and settled me down. He offered support and encouragement, with a touch of firmness, and gave me some great advice. Don't be afraid to apologize and admit you screwed up, learn and grow from your mistakes. So I did just that. The next day, I talked to the class and apologized to my students, explaining my nervousness and suggested we just start again. The kids were very accepting, and they too were very supportive - another life lesson, ‘kids’ (teenagers) are generally great people if you treat them with respect. I restarted my lesson, which I had spent a lot of time planning with great demonstrations and so on, this time it went pretty well and I never looked back for the rest of that placement.

 So, the lessons learned:
 The main one is that teachers are human, we all make mistakes and screw up, it is important to realize this. We make the point often to our students, that we learn from mistakes and that is how we grow and learn. We try to get that message across to students, so we also need to learn to own up to our own mistakes, use them to model that it happens to everyone and it is okay to be vulnerable and admit those errors to our students, no matter their age.

 This experience also illustrates (as a teacher educator it is even more clear) the power of being a good mentor to students and beginning teachers. Without the support and guidance of that cooperating teacher long ago, I might have quit the profession and I believe that I have had a positive impact on many students as a classroom teacher, coach, school administrator, and now, as a teacher educator. So if we show patience and offer support our students may just stay on the path that makes the world a better place. 

Of course, as mentioned, over 42+ years I have made many mistakes. I have learned a lot and I've grown a lot - as a professional and as person. This lesson occurred early in my career and it's something I never forgotten. In future posts I will try to share some of the other things I have learned over my career. 

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