It's Okay To Make Mistakes.

“Mistakes are proof that you are trying.”  I had this anonymous quote posted on my board in my classroom a while back ago.  Although meant to encourage the students as we tackled some challenging concepts in class, I found myself staring at it more often than not and using it as my mantra to get me through the week.  As teachers, nobody knows the power of trying than us.  And as teachers, nobody knows more about making mistakes than we do.  Mistakes do happen in the regular classroom setting and I admit I made my fair share of them, mostly without the students knowing.  Make a mistake in front of alternative education students, however, and they will notice and make it clear to the whole world that you made a mistake.

        Of course, making mistakes does show the students that you are human, but more purposeful is showing how you learned from the mistake.  Mistakes are a part of life, no matter what the profession, and it is learning from them that makes you a better teacher, administrator, and person.  Thus, I have outlined my three biggest mistakes that I have made in alternative education and how I have learned from them to transform me into a better educator.

1.)   Over-plan and plan some more

Even though this was a lesson I learned early on in my teaching career, I did not anticipate the same results in alternative education.  I assumed that students’ focus and priorities would be elsewhere rather than on learning.  On some days, this is true, but a majority of the days, my students have been craving the structured lessons and planned activities.

As a result of under planning, I found my lessons the first week of school falling a half-hour short...every day!  As any educator knows, any lag time in the classroom is a chance for students to fill this void with off-task and problematic behavior through no fault of their own.  But over planning doesn’t necessarily mean more worksheets. Be sure to include smaller tasks that give the students’ brains a break from the concept, such as brain breaks or transition activities, such as movement games.  Most students, especially alternative education students, are constantly on the go and appreciate a well-structured and well-timed plan for their class.

2.)   Make Room for Authenticity

Even with the best plan of the day, something will always come up that will lead you and your lesson astray.  Students in the alternative education setting tend to be more sensitive to the world around them, and they will always bring up something they saw on Snapchat the night before or even what’s going on outside the classroom window.  Not to mention, they want to discuss it right then and there in the middle of your planned lesson.

Allow this moment of authenticity to happen!  It might not be a part of your lesson, but to that student, that is the most important thing on his mind at that moment.  The problem many educators make, myself included, is that they don’t allow themselves to see the emotional educational connection.  Who cares if the “Top 10 Secrets of the Wizard of Oz” doesn’t tie into your lesson on linear regression?  This is the perfect opportunity to connect with your students and who knows, maybe the relationship between wicked witch mortality and water temperature is the perfect example of a linear regression.

3.)   Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Teaching is a difficult profession, but it is made more difficult when your regulars are seemingly dependent upon you to be perfect.  The truth is, nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes.  In the alternative education setting, it seems that the impact of the mistake would be worse for the students, but like all students, they forgive and move on.  So should you.

A good educator knows when they have made a mistake, reflects, and makes improvements for next time.  There is always a next time.

Although alternative education students are more aware of mistakes made by adults, they are also more forgiving and seeing you learn and improve from a minor blunder is just another learning point in their journey to success.  As the quote says, “mistakes are proof that you are trying,” and we all know we are trying our best each and every day.


 Shawver Selfie w cat Blk Whit- Josh Shawver, COA STEM Teacher