Learning how to be a standout teacher can be like a journey along a hard and rocky road – especially if you're traveling down that road at a rapid pace (like I keep pushing you to do!). If you play it safe and pick your way around the rocks, you're not likely to experience as many “uh-oh” moments.
But if you are doing what's in the best interest of the kids and making progress as quickly as you can, you are going to find yourself tripping over rocks constantly.
I’d like to give you some perspective so you can get back up and keep on moving, no matter what happens.
Kids bounce back from teacher mistakes
I keep saying that it's all about the students, don't I? Well, one of the things you may worry about is that your mistakes are impacting your kids. Yes, to a certain extent they are, but it is a very short-term thing, as long as you are always striving to improve.
A follower once shared something that her college professor asked, which I thought was brilliant. This professor asked:
“What was the worst thing that ever happened to you in school? Who did it to you?”
If you think about it, the worst thing that ever occurred to most people in elementary school never came from a teacher; it nearly always came from other children. You have to do a lot to scar a child for life, so it is highly unlikely that you are ever going to hurt them or their long-term success if you are teaching with their best interests at heart.
Your classroom laboratory
First, do no harm.
This is a basic principle that medical doctors take into consideration when dealing with patients. The same principle can be applied to dealing with students. We don't want to do anything that will set them back in any way, either academically or emotionally. However, there is still plenty of experimenting that we can do without harming students in the slightest.
In my book, Achieving Classroom Confidence, I encourage my readers to do things such as trying read-alouds with boring voices vs. exciting voices, or wearing different outfits to assess their impact on children.
This kind of experimentation is necessary for your development, and pushing small limits will help you avoid bigger mistakes later.
Always be experimenting in all areas of your teaching practice. If you see another teacher doing something that looks effective or even just intriguing, give it a shot, whether it's a method of lining up for lunch or a new approach to diagramming sentences.
You're with the children for six or more hours every day, so there is always time to try something new and then correct it if it doesn't work.
Resolve to not be one of those people who is always “planning to try something” but never quite gets around to it. Instead, be a person who immediately tries out new things and then accepts, rejects, or adjusts based on the results.
You will make tremendous progress toward your goal of being an outstanding teacher if you are willing to rapidly work your way through all manner of new ways of doing things.
Teacher mistakes and “do overs”
One of my European followers wrote this question to me:
“I came off to a bad start with a few students in a fourth grade class. They are the class-clowns and like to be troublemakers, and I have a hard time keeping them busy because they don't do the tasks I ask of them.
“Now, to be a self-critic, I worked with many of the kids in the class before becoming their substitute teacher (in Denmark, the kids go to a daycare kind of thing after school to have fun, that's where I worked), so many of them already knew me really well. I didn't feel the need to introduce myself, so I simply said my name and got on with it.
“However, I see now that that was a mistake; some of the kids didn't know me at all. Now I want to get onto a fresh start with them… especially the kids who have given me some trouble. Do you have an idea of how I can do that?
Seeing as I should be able to handle these things, as I worked with kids their age for half a year and have faced quite a few of their issues, it makes me feel so freaking bad, like I am failing at my job.”
Calling for a “Do-over”
And my response:
“As the adult, you get to call a ‘do-over' whenever you want. You only have to state that ‘things didn't go well, and we are going to start from the beginning.'
The thing is, kids understand. Particularly at that age, they won't think it odd because adults set rules and, when they want, they change the rules. Starting over allows you to reintroduce yourself and restate expectations.
“And let me make one thing perfectly clear: there is no way you're failing at your job! I have made the exact same mistake as you, and I have known dozens of other teachers who have made that mistake as well. Namely, moving forward with some preconceived assumptions and learning after the fact that you have blundered.
“It happens all the time in human relations, and the teacher-student relationship is going to suffer its share of bumps.
“However, being the adult and authority figure, you can fix it up quickly and be right back on track.”