It’s Okay to Make Mistakes: How My Students and I Benefit From My Blunders

Everybody makes mistakes. Even veteran teachers! Although I have been teaching for 35 years, I can’t count how many mistakes I’ve made as an educator. I’m guessing (if I were to be conservative) it could be at least 35,000 (35 years X 1,000 mistakes per year). I used to beat myself up for all those blunders, but in order to become a National Board Certified Teacher, you have to learn about self-reflection and grow from your mistakes. I try to model for my students how to be lifelong learners, so here are some of favorite “benefits from – my blunders”:

  • When I make a mistake in front of the class — a math error, a spelling or writing mistake-and the kids notice and correct me, they get a small prize (a Jolly Rancher or lollipop).
  • I have “face blindness.” I often confuse kids’ names. Not intentionally, but if there are two dark-haired boys who both wear glasses, I often call Joey by his “twin’s” name, Colin, and vice versa. It’s frustrating for me and I feel terrible. I ask the kids for help. They grab me in the hall and jokingly say, “Okay Ms. Wasserman, am I Joey or Colin?!” They actually help me focus on slight voice differences, or an extra set of freckles. I thank them profusely. My colleagues may get the names right within the first week of school; my goal is to get 100 percent of the names correct within the first month.
  • I take the same tests and quizzes my co-taught students take. My students have all kinds of challenges, from dyslexia to autism to dyscalculia. I promise them each time they take a test or quiz that I will take it too. I also let them know my general education colleagues have checked my work for accuracy and they let me know which mistakes I’ve made.
  • I have “schedule challenges.” If my teammates need to rearrange the schedule for missed classes due to state testing, club fair days, Monday holidays, etcetera, they often explain the changes to me, and in turn I attempt to explain them to the kids. Most of the time I end up in the wrong room with the wrong section of students looking at me. I apologize and humbly ask the kids if they know where I’m supposed to be.
  • I share with students the mistakes that I made as a student from junior high through high school and college: the warning notice in 7th grade geography class, flunking my driving test in 10th grade and going home in the car in tears, and having to go to summer school in college because I failed a math class and had to retake it to become a teacher.

By sharing my blunders, I hope to demonstrate for my students that all of us make mistakes, kids and adults alike. So, don’t beat up on yourselves when you make errors. Take a step back, reflect and try to figure out how to make it a learning opportunity for you and your students.

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