In which I share with you my most crushing teacher moment:
A lot of the ed world is talking about how valuable failure is to students who have a growth mindset, and how we educators shouldn't protect students from this growth opportunity.
I want to talk to you about the value of your own failures, too, and how we can use them to make us better teachers. Let's start with one of my many cringeworthy teaching moments that changed me for the better. It happened 19 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.
It was the last day of school my first year at Piedmont. I was maybe in year 6 of my teaching, I loved my school and students, and I had hit my stride. I was no longer floundering, I was so effective, so clever, so sure that I was changing each one of my students' lives for the better.
"They are so lucky to have had me instead of a more dull teacher", I may have thought as my students filed out for the summer. One student, an honors student, a popular and attractive girl, hands me an envelope from her mom. "Oh how nice, a handwritten thank you" I may have thought. When I opened the business-style trifold letter from her mom, I read three pages of how a throwaway sarcastic joke I had made in October crushed this girl and made her secretly resent me for the rest of the year.
The mom described to me in detail how the child had come home and cried because of my callous choice of words. I remembered the incident. It happened when the student couldn't locate a word on a page (I had assigned a worksheet--even worse!) The word was right in front of her and I pointed to it and ....now I am too embarrassed to even write what i said but I called her a name one middle schooler might call another middle schooler when they make an obvious mistake. I chuckled. She laughed probably, we moved on.
Now I am staring at pages of complaint. This mom has waited until the last day of school to let me know how I hurt her daughter. I am crushed. I pen a reply and put it in the mail within hours. Pages of reply, heartfelt apology, sincere compliments. "I would never have said it if I truly thought that about your daughter, ma'am. It is because it seemed so obvious that she is brillant that I made the ridiculous insult. Please let her know...."
I never heard back. It is one of the most painful lessons of my teaching career. I hurt a child with my callousness. I need to be more careful. This job is no joke.
That was when I got rid of sarcasm and I am a better teacher for it. I've since heard from others that there is no place for it in a shared inquiry environment and I totally agree. Others use it and they feel it works. I am not sure. All I know is that I will never do it again. The incident made me a better teacher.
Maybe you have a story like this, a big embarrassing teacher fail. You're not alone. We all grow through pain.
The Celebrating Piedmont blog is all about affirming your great teaching moments. I want you to know that your "crawl under a rock moments" are useful and necessary for growth, too.
This is a link to another reflective teacher's cringworthy moment. We all have had them and we are all moving forward together!
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Lisa Gurthie is the PD facilitator at Piedmont IB Middle School. She specializes in tech and arts integration, interdisciplinary holistic education, and unschooling school to reconnect academia to real life. One day she will modernize her "about" page. She curates this blog for the professional development convenience of the teachers at Piedmont, but the editorial comments are her own.