What to Do When You’re the Teacher Who Messes Up

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 5.11.22 AMHe couldn’t spell “Einstein” or “magic.” I didn’t want to take the class. I needed it. It was one of those “You-Need-This-For-College” classes. I wondered why. I’m certainly not a working in that field today.

He was often making mistakes on the board or misspelling something on a paper. He’d go back and correct himself after a thoughtful student raised a hand, but still, he was the expert. How could he spell something wrong? I was a pretty harsh critic.

He tried to organize me.

“You’ll never be a success.  You don’t take good notes,” he said.  My notes were just fine. For me. “You have to follow the system!” His system was beautiful. Tables of contents with neatly attached note pages… mine was a stream of consciousness with the occasional blurb about the subject.

When I studied… If I studied…I used my notes. I stared at the doodles. They transported me to the point in the lecture where I’d lost focus and drawn them. Today, there’s pens that do that for students.

My college notes are the same. Effective–a good system. I still use them today.

I ran into this teacher later in life. I discovered that as an adult, I liked him very much. He saw a disaster like me–backpack barfing with disorganization, bananas resting in the bottom of my locker inviting fruit flies, bad fashion, generally on a planet other than my own. He tried his best to avert said disaster with the best tools in his box. Focus. Organization. Systems.

What he needed was flexibility.  He didn’t recognize my systems were effective for me, because I processed things differently. He organized thoughts in a productive mental line. Mine were more like a creative spiderweb. There was a rhyme and reason to my thoughts. My systems served me well. As a teacher, that’s an important lesson–sometimes students are on point, even when they appear to be on another planet. My job is to teach them to find their way back to Earth on their own.

I’m merely a mentor teaching connections and assisting students in developing their life systems. I note problems, assist in analysis, and first suggest, not provide, a solution. It’s not that I won’t dictate, demand and command, but good teaching allows me to prompt them to help themselves first.

 

“I can’t write this essay!” they said. Two good students, staring at a semi-blank paper.

“Is that an iPhone hidden in your bag?” I asked.

“Yes.” I took out my own.

“Let me show you something.”  I hit the microphone. I dictated an intro paragraph using proper dictation techniques, students crowding around my shoulder.

The words appeared. Perfectly spelled text in the proper format. Students awed. You’d think I was Oprah giving away cars. Suddenly, everyone wanted to go home and write an essay.

Flexibility. Thinking and seeing outside the box. A good teaching moment. For a moment, I got to be a hero.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 5.11.36 AMThe other day, I didn’t.  “Miss, you forgot to close the quotations on this sentence.” Indeed I had. Without an end quote, I could speak ad infinitum. I fixed it.

“Miss, you did that math wrong.” We’d been applying math to the social sciences. There’s rust on some of my math.

Math Friend Next Door said, “Yup, you missed a step.”  Both slightly embarrassed and proud, I high-fived the kid and gave him candy. My goal is for my students to be better than me–not because I’m stupid, but when I mess up, I own it. Candy helps.

He looked at me the same way I looked at that teacher who misspelled the words. I invented that look.

He’s super smart. I wonder if he’ll forgive me some day… The girl who edited the quotes already has. Will my good karma teaching upperclassmen an essay hack counterbalance my mistake karma? I’m not sure how history will write my reviews.

Teachers aren’t supposed to be real people. We’re supposed to be perfect. I keep forgetting that and messing up. Maybe if I just have one more cup of coffee…I’ll do better today.

 

 

[images: mathspig.wordpress.com and uwyo.edu]

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5 thoughts on “What to Do When You’re the Teacher Who Messes Up

  1. I’m the professor who can’t spell on the blackboard in public. I tell my students up front (in fact it’s in my syllabus) that I have a number of learning disabilities, dyslexia being one of them. “There’s no Office for Disability Services once you get to be a professor, so I’m going to need your help and your patience.”

    We have a good laugh about it when it happens. It helps me to remember that I can’t be super-human the way teachers are “supposed” to be. I come with my peculiar brain wiring, and I have to let it all hang out for my students or be outted as an imposter.

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