Failed, Confessed, & Recovered : A Lesson from Teaching

A few years ago, right out of college, I was #blessed with the opportunity to teach math at the high school I attended. People who were once my teachers, advisors, and mentors were now my colleagues and go-to people at my new job. It was a weird shift.

I was in weekly meetings with people I had to refer to by first name instead of by Mr. or Mrs.. Even though I was amongst the teachers, I still felt like my performance was under supervision by them. It could have been an age thing, it could have been because it was my first time teaching, or it could have been simply because they were my teachers and they always would be. Either way, it was a HUGE learning experience for me.

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More than anything, however, I know the people who really helped me were my students. They understood my situation – and my ability to relate to them made our student-teacher relationships so unique and special. They watched me fail and they supported me when they could see me struggling. They cheered me on when I told them about exciting things happening in my life.

Just to give you some background – my only preparation for teaching these classes was taking a test to be a substitute teacher.

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Needless to day, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My only recollection of how to be a teacher was my memory of teachers and professors while I attended high school and college. I essentially taught myself how to lesson plan, tend to special needs of students, & write tests / homework assignments.

I’ll admit it – I made so many mistakes.


For example, I once wrote a test that was WAY too hard for them. For some reason, I had this expectation that they understood the material and  were ready for the challenge. Throughout the whole day of testing, my students constantly raised their hands and rushed up to my desk – asking for a hint, help, mercy, anything. They doubted themselves. I doubted myself. We all felt SO exhausted.

At the end of the day, it was time to grade the tests. No one got an A. Only a select few got a B. It was rough. I needed a second opinion, so I showed someone else the test – she told me it was way too hard for their level.

Now, I had to sit back. I had to look at it from a different perspective and truly evaluate – to figure out what happened.

It was me. My fault. That’s all there was to it. I pushed them too hard, I required too much of them, and I had to go back and tell them this.

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“They’re never going to take me seriously again”

“My students will lose their trust in me”

“I bet they are going to try to pull this on me for their next test – even if it is fair!”

These were all thoughts running through my head, but I had to take responsibility, put on my big girl pants, and take care of this.

The next day, I went back to work, I told them, “Hey guys, this is new to me, which means I will make mistakes, and this was one of them.” I told them I would give the test back for them to keep (for reference), but I would give them another review day and test them later – promising it would not be like that again.

They took it really well, they understood, and it went so much better than I anticipated. All of the doubts and questions I had didn’t even come up!


I actually think admitting my mistake to them made them trust me more and made our whole dynamic for the rest of the year a lot different. They saw me as a real person who wanted to help them and see them succeed. And they saw that I was learning too, just like them.


I’m not sure if I’ll end up teaching math again, but I know I could never forget my students and that special 6 months we shared together in that classroom. I’m so grateful we got to experience failure and learning together.

It’s crazy how much you learn when you’re thrown into new situations you didn’t plan for. I can think of so many instances in my life where this has happened.

  • hikes where I didn’t anticipate a steep incline
  • running with someone
  • moving to Minnesota from California
  • making new friends
  • trying a new food
  • going vegan

Did you have an experience like this at your first real job? Tell me about it!

 

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