When I was in the Faculty of Education, I had a placement in a Grade 4/5 class. I taught science all afternoon on rotary, and I worked with a teacher that had her Masters Degree in science. She knew it all. And I struggled in science … I mean I really struggled! We were teaching Rocks and Minerals at the time, and students had to conduct different tests to identify various rocks and minerals. I had an answer guide, but the rock and mineral samples kept on getting mixed up. One student was certain that he was holding a diamond sample, and while I knew that this didn’t make sense, I also couldn’t figure out any reason to tell him that he was wrong. I was at such a loss. I’ve really never felt more unsure of myself as a teacher. Every night, I went home and I studied. I read everything there was to read about science, and I tried to educate myself enough to answer all of the student questions on this subject. I really felt like I needed to know it all.
I’ve been teaching for almost 10 full years now, and until this year, I always felt like it was my job to be the “expert” on everything. The students were looking to me for all of the answers. My job was to have them. Then things changed. Thanks to my amazing Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter, I learned that it’s okay if I don’t know it all. I learned that students can teach each other too and that it’s okay to ask for help.
All of my students know that I have limited artistic skills. When the year started, I used to demonstrate all of the art lessons, but my demonstrations often led to more questions than answers. I was frustrated, and my students were too. Then I started seeing how many talented artists I have in my class. I started to get help from these students. I would let them model what to do, and the quality of all of the art improved.
Tonight though, I realized the value in admitting that I need help. As the year comes to an end, I’m trying to get some student work organized to send off to the Ancaster Fair. I brought home the work tonight along with the fair tickets too. After I finished filling out the tickets, I stared at them and at the work. Then I looked again. I just couldn’t figure out how to attach the tags. I tried all kinds of different options, but nothing seemed to work. Finally I emailed the staff and asked for help. As I sent off the email, I felt this funny feeling inside. I felt like a failure.
Then I got this lovely email from an Educational Assistant (EA) that works in the classroom. She said to me, “Aviva, don’t worry! I’ll help you with this tomorrow.” I know that this is a small thing, but this EA’s email made me feel so much better. She didn’t make me feel like I failed. She reminded me that it’s okay to ask for help.
That’s when I thought of my students. I think that students need to see us asking for help. I think that we need to model that we don’t have all of the answers. This doesn’t make us failures; this makes us better teachers. Tonight, I know how my students feel when they’re struggling, and I hope that I always give them the same wonderful support as this EA gave me!
When have you struggled? How do you think that this has made you a better teacher? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I am such a big proponent of conscious modeling of mistake making. I had one of those days today where I was frustrated with people that don’t do that. Your post was so timely.
Thanks for your comment, Royan! I had one of those days today that I kept on making mistakes.:) It definitely felt like the right time to blog about something that I really believe very strongly in too.
Asking for help not only helps you but it benefits the other person who can help you. We all know it feels good to help other people out when they need it. I love ‘filling other people’s buckets’. But by always trying to do it myself or solve my own problems I don’t give others the opportunity to fill their buckets by helping me. Too often we think we have to do it on our own. There are always people willing to help. The question is are we willing to open up and ask for help.
That’s so true, Angie! It took me a while to be willing to ask for help. I’m glad that I started to though. As you said, there are always lots of people around willing to help!
Thanks for your comment!
I think it is a teachers job to teach students how to ask for help and how to problem solve. I try to demonstrate this in my class, I have even had student teachers try to tell me answers because they thought I really didn’t know the answers! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the comment, Carol! I think that showing that “we don’t know” is so important too. It helps students see that it’s okay if they don’t always know the answer too.
When I answer a student’s question with “I don’t know”, my students chime in with “let’s research it!”. They are so empowered to know that they can find the answers before their teacher.
Thanks for the comment, Stacia! I love how your students chime in, “Let’s research it!” What a great way to get them problem-solving!
As I read your blog, I felt a sense of warmth and admiration for your stories. As someone who has been involved with education for decades (educational publisher, father, etc.), I have always thought the singularity of teaching was one of its greatest challenges. I view the work I have done as a brokerage arrangement. Publishers look for excellent practice (as performed by educators) and work to make it available to other educators who might benefit from that good practice.
In my work, I am always working within a team from whom I can ask for assistance or perspective in solving specific and general challenges. Their input adds depth and richness to the result. Your post tells me you are using a 21st Century Skill, collaboration, (which has actually been around forever in effective work environments) with your team (learners and teaching assistants). I wonder how broadening the team for all teachers might impact all learners.
Wow! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I love hearing your editor/parent perspective. You make a very interesting point here. You definitely have me thinking!