In honor of being all school spirited, I feel inspired to write more educational posts this week.
Be okay with being wrong.
(Also known as being human.)
When we teach something for the first time, most of us teachers quickly realize how much we still have yet to learn. Unfortunately, because we are often perfectionists and never wish to admit defeat, we try to pretend we are right even though we are most definitely wrong. Unless you are the world's greatest genius, then sometimes, just sometimes, a student proves you wrong. (I say "you" and not "we" because I cannot group myself with the geniuses of the world. You, however, might very well be the next Einstein. If you are, then your presence on this here blog befuddles me.)
Anyway, be okay with being wrong. It's endearing...provided you do not make a habit of it.
When we give students a sneak peek into the humanity behind the curtain of our teacher hut, they respect us. They learn from us to be gracious about not always being right about everything or being okay with not always being right. (Some of those know-it-alls, who make us want to hit them in the face with a glazed doughnut, could really use some modeling of humility.) That way, when they approach a question with an answer from the planet Jupiter and we do not pat them on the head and say "good answer" for an answer that was not good, maybe they will not feel so embarrassed or hesitant about responding to another question because we've modeled how to admit wrong with grace.
Sometimes, it's not always about being wrong but just admitting when we do not know the answer. At the beginning of my career, I thought my brain HAD to be a repository of all knowledge. No student could know more than I knew. Rather, my brain needs to be open to the idea of serving as omniscient repository. How does that saying go? Ignorant minds think they have little to learn, but wise minds realize how much they have yet to learn? Did I make that up? I know not. Instead of misspeaking, we can admit when we just don't know an answer, but we will "find out and report back." Or, we'd "love it if someone hopped on the internet now to find out that answer." They sure do love teaching us, and look at that! They are learning something at the very same time! Madness, I tell you.
I have two examples from the past two weeks. While we were reviewing an AP multiple choice passage, a student questioned how the author could have been speaking at Cambridge University when he was living in America; the informational blurb provided this factoid. He certainly caught me off guard, so, during my planning, I did a little research into the matter and found out that the guide included a misprint. In fact, the author was not speaking at Cambridge University. He was speaking in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Did this information make a big difference in understanding the content of the passage? Not at all. However, did I make that student's day when I told him in the hallway that he was right? Absolutely. I couldn't answer his question right away, and he didn't care. He just cared that I took the time to inquire further and report back.
Today, I confused two terms on a packet, so all of my students completely disagreed with me on the answer. I was like "no way, Jose. It has to be this way." I asked one of them to break down the answer. When she did, she straight up proved me wrong wrong wrong. She learned how to defend her answer, and I learned how bright yet another one of my students is. (Actually, quite a few of them offered valid answers. Their analysis impressed me.) Quite honestly, I said, "you all officially rattled my brain. I'm saving your response in my computer, stewing over it, and reporting back on Wednesday with the final verdict." They stated their case, and I didn't pretend to lord over them as giant, I-pretend-to-know-more-than-I-actually-do teacher. I believe those science people call that symbiosis? Mutual dependence, yes?
Now, I feel compelled to state that we should not make a habit of being wrong (like my 11th grade teacher who was convinced freedom included only one e) because then we lose our credibility. However, just as students appreciate the teachers who can reprimand and move on, they equally appreciate the teacher who can admit fault or ignorance and remedy it. Otherwise, how can we expect the same behavior from them?
Sometimes, what we teach our students is not nearly as important as how we teach them. Sometimes, our students' learning has more to do with who we are than what we say.
You can quote me on that.