Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making the Most of Humble Pie

Since the new semester began three weeks ago, I have:

  • Distributed essay directions with due dates listed from a past semester
  • Created a “Calendar of Major Due Dates” with two entries that included the correct numeral but the wrong day, like: Thursday, January 23, 2009
  • Graded an assignment for three class sections and forgot to record one person’s late submission sent to me via email
  • Created an interactive “clicker” grammar activity with a “red/read” typo

Of course, I’ve made dozens of other mistakes, too, like mispronouncing new students’ names or bringing the wrong edition of a textbook to class—ordinary, simple human errors. I make them all the time just like everyone does, and while I sometimes annoy myself, I don’t think too much about it.

The errors listed above, however, happened in a written record of one kind or another, and each of them came to my attention only when a student pointed it out to me in class. These mistakes created an opportunity for me to eat humble pie in front of my students.

When I was a newer teacher, I used to choke on humble pie. My hold on my classroom management felt tenuous, and being called out on an error (especially a writing error) upset me; I would become flustered and start babbling out excuses, or I might try to sharply direct attention elsewhere. I guess I felt vulnerable anyway, and when students pointed out my mistakes in class, I thought I heard heckling. Now? Now, I usually laugh and thank the student, along with a comment like, “I’m glad someone around here is paying attention!”

The fact that I’m still thinking about these incidences belies any claim I might make that I don’t care about humble pie anymore. It still can be embarrassing, but it no longer makes me defensive. When I can laugh at myself, students seem to relax, too. I teach writing, and I try to encourage my students to take risks in their text. I can handle them witnessing my lack of perfection, too. Teaching as a profession can be so long—thirty years for full retirement, right? It can be redundant—editing a calendar of assignments semester after semester. I wish during those first years of teaching I had been better able to laugh at myself, to shove a forkful of humble pie in my mouth and ride out the moment with my students. Making mistakes does not diminish a teacher’s power, but being unable to handle making mistakes just might…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

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