Monday, October 7, 2013

Taking a Teaching Mulligan

Sometimes, despite trying to do my best job possible as a teacher, I screw up. I'm pretty sure it's healthy to accept that it happens from time to time.

A few weeks ago, my students took a quiz that pretty much nobody did well on. Like, not even really that close. (I'm not going to go into what the subject matter was or how my lessons were designed or what scaffolding I did -- that doesn't really pertain to the message of my post today.)

Needless to say, this elicited an emotional reaction from me. I actually had to stop grading and walk away for a few minutes because I was feeling a mix of sadness and anger all at once. I reasonably sure that I was uttering curse words under my breath after I came back and continued grading.

I think, unfortunately, there are some teachers who probably would have taken that anger and directed it at their students the next class period. I've seen teachers get absolutely pissed off at their students for doing terribly on a quiz or a test as a whole group.

I'm not one of those teachers. When students don't perform well on an assessment, I blame myself. I blame myself pretty hard, actually. Maybe more than I should. I guess I can't help it.

This happened on a Friday afternoon. I thought about what to do all weekend. I came back to my students on Monday and, in each class, just laid it out for them:

"Guys, nobody did well on this quiz. I'm sorry. I blame myself for that. When nobody does well, that tells me that I probably did something wrong with my teaching. So, I'm not going to include these quizzes in your grade for now. We'll come back to it next week, I'll try to teach differently, and we'll re-take this quiz. Does that sound fair?"

And it sounded fair to everyone.

I imagine part of why my students were amenable to this is because many of them sensed that they hadn't done well. I bet many of them were afraid they'd let me down, or that I was going to be mad at them for failing one silly math quiz. They probably don't know that, when a class bombs an assessment, the first question I always ask myself is, "what did I do wrong?"

Stuff like this is a humbling reminder that, even though I work hard and try my very best as an educator, there will be times where I come up short. I try to keep those instances few and far between, but from time to time it will happen. When it does, I think the right thing is to give my students a second chance -- or, more accurately, ask my students to give me a second chance.


  1. It's not always your fault, and sometimes it's a matter of difficult subject matter. I very clearly remember being tested on Conic Sections as a high school sophomore. And then the teacher coming back after she graded them and saying, "We're going to start this whole section again." She didn't do anything wrong, but the conics can be tough. Doing it all again made things make much more sense. And it was much better than moving on and taking those original grades.

    1. Yeah, you're right about that. I think sometimes I put too much responsibility for things on myself. At least that's what my wife tells me. :-)

      Good news, though! The students re-took the quiz this week and did SO MUCH BETTER!