Teachers Make Mistakes Too!

Gail Godwin famously said, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation, and three-fourths theater.” Teaching is like a Broadway show, not only because active learning takes place in a fun environment, but also because teachers don’t get a second take. When many of us online teachers are awake in the wee hours of the morning, we’re more prone to making mistakes of all sorts. Most mistakes are minor, and a few might be major. So how do we deal with it?

A Great Opportunity for Comedy

I was teaching a more advanced child the comparative and superlative forms of small and big. I’m not sure what was going on with my brain that morning, but I kept on insisting the picture showing the biggest object was the smallest object. Thankfully, this was a student whom I was well acquainted with. She, in her characteristically sassy way, explained to me that I was wrong. As a way of making amends, my giant stuffed monkey “hit” me on the head while I repeated, “Bad Gabby! Bad Gabby!” Naturally, she thought this was hilarious, but it also made our relationship stronger. Not only did she see that I could gracefully admit when I was in error, but she knew she could feel comfortable voicing her opposition.

Just Trash It and Move On!

For my online teaching, I love to create lesson-specific rewards which combine a fun activity with a review of the day’s topics. I had spent half-an-hour putting together a detailed reward for one of my regular students. However, during the first few minutes, I saw that the reward was too difficult for any student at her level to figure out. In the few seconds it took for my brain to process this unexpected situation, I decided what I would do.

I picked up my little trash bin. I told her I was so sorry, that this reward was “very, very bad”. I held up the trash bin to the camera and dumped the reward into it. Her eyes widened in surprise and her mouth formed a big “O”. I think this was the best part of the lesson for her! I grabbed a back-up reward to use and we continued. I see this as a life lesson on a macro-level too. If I see that something isn’t working, it’s best to cut my losses and march forward!

There’ll Be Days Like This

One of the most taxing challenges foreign language teachers can face is to grade our language to meet the students’ level. On trying days, we’re not feeling well and nothing seems to go right. During these moments, it’s tougher for me to keep my sentences short, my instructions clear, and my incidental language at a minimum.  

When I’ve got marbles in my mouth, my instructions can lack clarity or brevity. I’m happy to report this is a rare occurrence, but I have to find a way to deal with it immediately should this malady strike. Mistakes in elocution prompt us to talk more as a cover-up. If I see that my instructions or sentences aren’t clear, I will simply stop myself. I take a deep breath and I use TPR to show the student that I am stopping and rewinding. With good TPR and facial expressions, EFL students will usually understand that you’re making another attempt to fix your errors.

Don’t Be Perfect, Be Honorable

99.9% of the world’s population is not expecting perfection. Most people are reasonable, including our students (or their parents). They understand that we have limitations with distance learning. While they anticipate an organized, well-constructed lesson, they also understand that errors happen. They don’t expect an infallible human as a teacher, but they do expect accountability. Making sure errors are kept to the bare minimum, but being responsible enough to acknowledge and correct them, is what all customers want and deserve.