Learn from your mistakes
If you are a new teacher, you’ll be making lots (and lots) of mistakes. Don’t worry about it. You’ll not only survive them, you’ll learn from them and if you reflect on them honestly, you’ll be a better teacher for them too.
Most mistakes will be small and inconsequential – like losing a child’s homework or confusing the names of twins. The kids won’t care, so neither should you. “Learn from your mistakes” should be a maxim for teachers and children alike.
Occasionally though, you’ll make a bad mistake and wonder why you ever wanted to teach in the first place, have a sleepless night about it and think that your fledgling teaching career lies in tatters on the classroom floor.
Mistakes are a natural part of learning. If you never make mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough or taking necessary risks to become the teacher you deserve to be.
There are very few mistakes you can’t recover from. Even bad ones.
Here’s my evidence.
My first year in teaching was with a difficult Year 6 class – at least I thought so at the time. Trying to get them to line up for assembly, leave the classroom in an orderly manner or raise their hand before shouting out answers was my daily diet of psychological torture.
To my mind, water-boarding ran only a close second to the turmoil I endured taking the kids to the weekly swimming lesson at the local pool. First the school bus driver gave me withering looks at my lack of natural ability to assert my authority with them. Then when we got there, the kids made a habit of mischievously jumping straight in to the pool as soon as they were changed. So the swimming instructor would start the lesson by balling at them at the top of his voice what “hopeless, useless articles” they were – but all the time looking straight at me.
One week I made an issue of warning the kids not to jump in the pool before the lesson began. I warned them in the classroom before we left school. I warned them on the bus on the way to the pool. And I warned them again as we entered the changing rooms.
I think you know what’s coming…
Sure enough, within seconds of me going in to a locker and starting to change myself I heard delighted shouts, screams of children jumping in the water. By the time I opened the changing room door more than half a dozen were already splashing about laughing and giggling.
That was it. I flipped.
“Right!” I shouted at the whole class, including the twenty odd assembled innocently sitting at the side of the pool, “Out! Everybody out! Everybody get changed right now! We are not having another swimming lesson until you can all learn how to behave yourselves properly… blah, blah, blah…”
They weren’t listening. The mood changed instantly. A sombre, seething pall of anger, bitterness – even hatred – exuded from them at the injustice of a naked act of collective punishment. There was total silence getting changed and getting back on the bus – for once.
But it doesn’t take long before children start singing songs on buses. This one was a simple, well known refrain… you probably know the tune… sing-a-long if you like… it goes like this…
“We hate you Newland, oh yes we do! We hate you Newland, oh yes we do!
We hate you Newland, we do! Oh Newland WE HATE YOU!”
I think, by the sound of it, every child was singing it at the top of their voice.
That night I went home exhausted, hating school, hating teaching and I admit it – hating those bloody kids. I was convinced they had it in for me. The little swines – as I thought of them that night – had ground my lofty idealism to dust in the space of a few months. After an almost sleepless night I got up the next morning with a foreboding dread, wondering what new tortures awaited me.
On the bus to school I dreamed longingly of being a shelf-stacker at Sainsbury’s…
Over a coffee in the staff room I confided the incident to the worldly but sympathetic ear of my colleague Olive – a hugely talented and experienced Reception class teacher. She gave me a forgiving look and said: “When you go in there this morning, tell the whole class you are going to do two things: First – you are going to apologise to all those children you punished who didn’t deserve to miss their swimming lesson. Secondly, but without threat, just tell them that you’ll do exactly the same thing next week and every week until they all get the message.”
Next week went like a dream. They had learned a lesson. I felt like a teacher in command.
And though I made many more mistakes that year… and every year… I had learned an important lesson too.
Got any mistakes you can compare to that? Let me know…
This blog was originally published for The Guardian Teacher Network on February 4th 2012