Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog around the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will let you know how you can start participating!
Read the rest of the carnival entries here!
This month, Reach to Teach wants to know: What was your worst lesson? What went wrong? How did you learn from it? I can’t remember a specific ‘worst lesson’ (although I do remember thinking “this is the worst” a few times), so instead I wrote a list of some of the mistakes I’ve made during my stint as a teacher.
1. While playing a game with a group of Kindergarteners that involved a beach ball, I turned my back for one second and one kid beaned another kid in the back of the head so hard she went sprawling face first on the ground. Chaos erupted, and I had to call in my extremely hands-off co-teacher to help me break up the horde of tiny brawlers.
2. Brought cookies one day for the same group of Kindergarten kids, which they used as face paint. There’s a mistake you only ever need to make once.
3. One kid wrote a sentence on the white board calling the class clown fat and stupid. I wasn’t quick enough to chastise, and the rest of the students joined in, like a ravenous pack of hecklers at a stand up comedy show. Spent the rest of class time explaining why name calling isn’t okay, however grammatically correct the statement may be, and even if the target is laughing too.
4. Teaching them how to construct puns. There is no going back on that one.
5. When asked a question about a tricky twist of grammar, I’ve forgotten the rule, and either made something up that sounded like it could be right or attributed it to the mysterious God of English Grammar, who is frequently illogical and insufferably pedantic — don’t even get him started on the Oxford Comma.
6. Shown my biases when teaching something like social studies, or discussing an author I don’t care for (looking at you, J.D. Salinger, you wild bore).
7. Ignored a kid who was waving his arm furiously to answer a question because he was annoying the ever-loving crap out of me.
8. Laughed when a student said something inappropriate.
Well, that’s just a handful of them… I could add to this list all day. There’s nothing like standing before a room full of scrutinizing students to rankle a person’s confidence and short circuit the brain. I remember watching my junior high teachers while my class was being obnoxious, which was more often than not, and thinking how awful being a teacher must be and how I could never or would never do it (ha!). I was a shy kid who was always trying to melt into the floor, and I hated when my teachers put me on the spot or seemed to be callous to my shyness. So now when I have a student like that, I feel an immediate kinship with them, and I try really hard not to repeat those sorts of mistakes — although it’s tough and I see now where my teachers were coming from. (Answering a question will not kill you, Child, give me something to work with here! You think I want to give the same three know-it-alls the floor all of the time? No, I do not.)
Since I am a raving perfectionist, I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways I screwed up, didn’t explain a concept well enough, missed something important, and how I can improve. I’m constantly worried I’ll say something that will be deleterious or be damaging in some way, so I try to be really careful with what I say and how I say it. I fret over test scores. I look at my deficits and then research the shit out of the subject until I know it backwards, forwards and in Latin (ha, I wish).
The downside of my perfectionism is that when a class goes badly, I take it hard. Sometimes, willingly taking repeated hits to the ego feels like lunacy. But when it goes well, it’s tremendous, and it keeps me motivated to keep working, to always be improving. Because that’s what mistakes are for.
If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.