Everyone makes mistakes. As painful as they may be at first, mistakes give us the opportunity to learn from experience and do better next time. That’s how we improve at our craft. We also learn from the shared wisdom of others. To that end, we asked our Free Spirit Advisory Board members to share some of their classroom mistakes and what they learned from them. Here are some of the answers we received.
One of my biggest classroom mistakes came when I underestimated the ability one of my students had locked inside her. The student, a fifth-grade young lady, has cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair to get around and has limited use of her hands. She was experimenting with a new speech device and said to the handsome young speech therapist working with her, “Good looking!” I assumed she made a mistake and pushed the wrong button, but when I mentioned this to her, she replied, “Mrs. Wegener, jealous!” She put me in my place, made me laugh, and taught me to never underestimate my students!
—Emily, special education teacher
My biggest classroom mistake was thinking I would not have to reteach anything that my seniors should have learned in their earlier grades. I made the transition to teaching seniors after teaching grades 5–8 for twelve years. I just knew I was going to be teaching the “elite” and would not have to work so hard. Boy, was I wrong! They are still students, after all, and subject to circumstances as much as anyone else. They still teach me so much, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
My biggest mistake in teaching has been allowing children to argue with me about their inappropriate behavior. I have learned to respond calmly instead, referring to classroom rules and consequences. I remind students that life is about choices and that if you choose to misbehave, then you also choose a consequence.
—Gina, music teacher
I have learned to use the 5-second rule. I’ve learned that if I wait a few seconds before responding to misbehavior, I have a better response and treat the situation more professionally than emotionally, which helps the entire class.
—Leona, sixth-grade ELA teacher
I have learned that I can’t reach every student, as hard as I try. Sometimes I need to counsel from a distance!
—Lisa, school counselor
I used to teach in a self-contained classroom for students with autism spectrum disorders. I had three paraprofessionals who worked with me, and we had all been given formal training on de-escalating student meltdowns. One day, a student started to have a meltdown during class, and one of the paraprofessionals stepped in to deescalate the situation. A couple minutes into her approach, it seemed to me that what she was doing was not working. I let her continue because, given the training we had just attended, I thought she might be able to rectify the situation. The student ended up escalating to violent behavior and hurting himself. The lesson I learned was not to second-guess myself. My first instinct was to take over the de-escalating of the situation, and I should have followed my instinct.
—Andrew, elementary school teacher
In my first year of teaching, I was teaching students about the great humanitarian Mahatma Gandhi. I thought it was a fascinating lesson; students had already studied the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and had created a presentation to explain the merit of one of the fundamental rights granted to us by the United Nations. After that, I presented some information about Gandhi’s life and asked students to reflect critically on how particular events in his world might have influenced his beliefs about equality and the methods we should use to struggle against authority. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized why my lesson had fallen flat when my class had been going so well: I had gotten so wrapped up in the content that I overloaded my students with a rapid, fact-filled lecture. They were basically being asked to let me deposit information into their heads. I learned that giving students an interesting, activity-based lesson is superior to teaching a lecture-based lesson because students then enjoy coming to class each day. It’s important to remember that activities satisfy some of the basic needs of students: being social and having opportunities for movement.
—Tom, special education teacher
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