Feb 2, 2012

Mark My Words…Things I’ve Gotten Wrong (Part 2)

As easy as it is to claim that I’ve figured it out, it can be just as easy to acknowledge where I’ve been wrong. But then again, sometimes it is very difficult to notice the change we’ve made in our philosophy. Often it feels like, we’ve been there all along. Well, I can say, there may have been a few more things I was wrong about. Here lies the continuation of my list:

For Part 1, click here.

4. Attitude, Behaviour, Attendance and Punctuality Should Affect Marks.

I once said to a student, “Your behaviour tells me you are not all that interested in getting this credit.” Yes, it was my first year teaching. I was following the ideas I had been led to believe. But I had adopted the belief that all these things can be / should be associated with a students grades. In fact, I had a long discussion in my first year with my department head whether a student with 20 absences should even be eligible for the credit, regardless of their abilities. Granted, this changed quick.

5. The Purpose of School is to Prepare Students for University.

I went to university. It was always ‘expected’ of me. So I did. Why wouldn’t I expect the same from my students. On top of that, the work that I once assigned was always in service of their pursuit. Now, of course, I knew that there were different ‘streams’ of students, but ultimately, I held the belief that deep within each student was the dream of university. I was wrong here too. Each student has a vision of the future, which may include university, but doesn’t need it.  In fact, I think this is a major struggle for teachers. Not all students long to be university educated. In fact, I now grimace when I hear a teacher say, “We have to do this to prepare them for university.” We’ve confused our mission. We’ve lost our ‘why’. This is why I believe in the educational revolution. We need to reframe our purpose as a public education system. If we give exams, just to prepare them for university, haven’t we lost our purpose.

6.  Avoiding Mistakes in the Classroom

I use to be incredibly worried that my students would find out I’m not a great speller or that I’m not a great writer or that I don’t have all the answers.  I use to fluff off answers I didn’t know in hopes that students would never see that I am learning as I go. I didn’t want them to know that I didn’t know it all. Now, I do the opposite. I learn with no walls. I’m more intrigued of their thoughts then those I had developed. I open my learning to inside the classroom. I tell them what I’m reading, what I’m learning, how I’m doing it. I ope myself up, more readily, to honest feedback, to stinging indictments, to mistakes.  I implore you to dive in, head first, it is worth it.

Again, these six mistakes I’ve made are not nearly as comprehensive as they should be. They are but a sampling of the path I’ve walked on as a teacher. The thing is, I’m still walking that path. I haven’t stopped moving. I haven’t sat down on the bench beside the tree. Even more importantly, I don’t have that ignorantly held belief that the things I’ve gotten wrong won’t keep growing.

For now, let me say.

I was wrong. I’ve changed my mind about a few things that I held pretty firmly.

The thing is the change of position, mentality, ideology, happen over time and sometimes, over night. It happens through a heated conversation with a colleague, a blog post by a stranger or an article written by an academic.

I’m happy to be wrong. But not as happy as I am being right. 🙂

Let me know of things you’ve gotten wrong in the comments. Let us wear our history like a badge.

I was wrong. And I’m still learning.


  • Thanks for posting this. It points to something that I think many teachers have forgotten or lost in their many years as the “sage on stage”. That is, we are all learning in some capacity, even as “professional” educators. Once we stop doing this, get comfortable, we fall into the “rut” of avoiding change and making mistakes.
    I was once told a great philosophical nugget while learning to snowboard that seems relevant here: “If you’re not falling, you’re not learning”.
    I believe that this speaks to your last point in particular. Learning is about making mistakes. If we are going to foster a learning culture for our students, then we have to be making mistakes with them. I embrace this philosophy but it frustrates me when the culture of school views this as weakness. One of the reasons I embrace the “education revolution” is that I want it to be accepted (and even expected) that teachers will make mistakes and learn alongside their students.
    When we portray ourselves as perfect we do ourselves and our students a disservice.

  • Hi Scott,

    I really enjoyed this post — it was both challenging and inspiring!

    As a student, I struggled throughout math. I was taught one algorithm, and only one, and have difficult without visuals or manipulatives. I failed too often and was left unsupported in the classroom — until my Grade 10 year. In that year, my confidence was given a boost, many thanks to my teacher who encouraged mistakes so that I could have the visual I needed to self correct and problem-solve. Even still, now as a teacher, I find myself working through problems with students and failing to see different views for strategies — thank goodness for my students!

    The discussion about not just allowing, but encouraging and guiding through failures in learning is often where the real learning takes place. I have learned that ‘talk’ in the classroom is essential — it completely changed my flexibility of volume in the classroom.

    As far as the punctuality point, I had to laugh — I myself missed more than half of my Grade 12 law class given I preferred to sleep in […something else that has changed dramatically since teaching. LOL]! I, however, earned an A in the course and when push came to shove over the attendance issue, the principal remarked on the delivery model in the classroom. If I could achieve academically while not attending, it begged the question, “was there a better way to teach this course?” Through that, I have tailored my own delivery, ensuring students are engaged and cooperating — something they may be unable to do on their own time. Encourage student blogging and create opportunities for them to continue and reflect on their learning beyond the classroom.

    Truly, our expectations and own teaching styles reflect and are changed on the basis of our lives as students. Such an important and humbling thought — that’s why it’s OK to make mistakes in our classrooms…we’re all still learning to, if we’re willing!

    Thank you again for sharing your experiences — I’m learning from you!


  • …we’re all still learning too! — see, I’m still making mistakes!

    I just came across this post on failure…thought you’d like to read it, if you haven’t already!


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