“Tell me about how it is okay for teachers to make mistakes,” Michelle said. “I am both a teacher and a parent,” she went on. “As a parent, when you make a mistake, you can acknowledge it, change your mind, make a better decision, and move on. But when you are responsible for other people’s children, you can’t make mistakes. What’s a professional to do?”
In a talk I gave last month at a school in the Midwest, I had made the twin statements: “Mistakes are learning opportunities; Fear of Making Mistakes is a learning disability.” The idea hit a nerve.
Another parent in the room answered Michelle with: “I am a perfectionist, so I know exactly what you are talking about. If my child were in your class, I would want you to handle your mistake the same way you would handle it with your own child: make the mistake and learn from it.”
Another parent spoke up, “I agree. You know, one thing that I do with my son is say something like, ‘Remember that thing I said, yesterday? That was wrong. Please ignore that. What I should have said is….”
“I know,” said another parent. “I do the same thing, and he always appreciates it. I have learned three things since I started being open about my mistakes with my daughter:
“1) I am modeling to her that it is okay to make mistakes (I saw that she was starting to become a perfectionist.);
“2) our relationship is a lot better once I started admitting my mistakes to her, and
“3) it has helped me a lot with my perfectionism—which is most definitely a learning disability. I hate it.”
“I know,” said Michelle, “but what about the parent-teacher conference? Are parents okay with me talking about my mistakes? I would rather talk about the child’s mistakes.”
After the general laughter had subsided, another teacher spoke up and said, “I have found that it is much easier to talk about the parents’ mistakes once I have talked about my own mistakes. Even better, it makes it easier for us to talk about what we need to do to help him, because sometimes parents are afraid to admit to a teacher that they aren’t perfect. Like: it’s not my fault that he is a troublemaker! They’d rather we agree that he has ADHD.”
Another teacher said: “I have found that for a teacher to admit his mistakes is one of the best ways to make your class a learning community. A day when I begin a class with, ‘Yesterday I said something wrong, and I want to correct it,’ is a day when my classes go well.”
There was general agreement that fear of mistakes is most definitely a learning disability. However, near the end of the evening, one parent asked a question that was harder to answer, “Why are so many of us are plagued with this disability, and what can we do to free ourselves?”
If you had been there, what would you have said?