I feel like there are a lot of “MEs” when it comes to my teaching over the last twelve years. There was “Right out of college, I’m so happy to have a job,” me. Then there was “What was I thinking, I have no idea how to do this,” me. After a while, I unfortunately turned into the “ I’ve got this, I know what I’m doing,” me. There was also “pre-mom” and “mom with three kids” teacher me. (Those two MEs are very different.) I can look back and see all of the different versions of myself. Some of them were good; some of them were disasters.
I’ve been in several conversations in my building and on Twitter over the last few weeks in which fellow educators have expressed the desire to apologize to former students. One person I talked to said that if his former students were in his class now, they wouldn’t even recognize him as the teacher they once knew. Others have noted that they aren’t even sure they were really teaching their students in those early years. When I think about my former students, there are a lot of apologies that run through my mind.
*I’m sorry I wasn’t a better listener when you were telling me why you couldn’t do your homework.
*I’m sorry about all of those book reports that required a certain amount of pages and chapters. (And I’m sorry for your parents too, who did most of those reports for you.)
*I’m sorry that I made you do so many fill in the blank worksheets.
*I’m so sorry that I ever uttered the words, “Take out your science books and turn to page 31.”
*I’m sorry that I wasn’t being the personal reading coach and mentor that you needed.
*I’m really sorry that I red-penned your writing to death. Really really sorry about that one.
The list of apologies could really go on and on. But, as I’ve been turning this idea over in my mind during the last few days, I’m not sure that an I’m Sorry is really what we need. If we’re growing as teachers, we are always going to have a long list of mistakes along the way. And most of the time, the things we did that failed, led us to look for a new way, a better way.
I recently shared with a friend about the success that my book clubs are having this year. I’ve been so happy with the authentic conversations, excitement over the books, and the learning that is happening during meetings. I had done book clubs in the past using rigid roles, task packets and strict protocol for discussion time. They were totally lifeless. I knew it wasn’t working. I’d like to apologize to those students. I killed book clubs for them with all of my roles and rules. But, instead of I’m Sorry, I’m saying Thank You. Thank you for trying something with me, showing me it didn’t work, and giving me the motivation to look for a better way.
Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” This is one of my favorite phrases that I say to my students during writing and reading conferences. Shouldn’t this apply to us as teachers? The answer is YES.
So, I’m starting the new week with Thank You on my lips. Thank you for all of the wrong turns along the way, because they continue to lead me to the right ones.