Professional Development Opinion

Teachers, Remember We Are a Work in Progress

By Starr Sackstein — August 13, 2014 2 min read
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Neat rows. Silent room. Numbered homeworks. Procedural lesson plans written out to the second.


Closing my eyes, I see my first years of teaching clearly like a scene from a movie, a hybrid between Freedom Writers and To Sir With Love.

These were just a few things I thought incorrectly about in my early career. In my eagerness to be great at what I was doing, I often ignored what felt right in lieu of what was expected.

Newbie mistakes for sure. I wanted to please everyone, afraid to question the status quo because I was untenured and didn’t know the rules yet.

The only part I really always got right was relationships. No matter how badly I missed the boat on the other stuff, in the beginning, the kids always knew I cared and how much I would sacrifice to help them succeed.

As teachers, we are a certain breed of people. Everything seems so important because it is. We take things personally and we try harder, but we have to remember that like our students, we are a work in progress.

I could spend countless hours beating myself up for the stuff I didn’t do right or I can look at each of the situations and understand that I was where I needed to be and I learned from it.

The most important part of making the mistakes, it taking the time to really reflect and decide what you want to do with the knowledge.

As we teach, we are on stage. The kids look to us to know what to do. We too, like them are students of our craft, always learning, always changing.

We need to treat ourselves as we treat our kids, with kindness.

Mistake will happen; this is a certainty. If we can go into this new school year realizing that this is a part of the process to be embraced then we can model for our students how to take what we’ve done and make it better.

Consider this scenario: You’re teaching a class and when you prepared for the day, you were certain it was going to be awesome. Unfortunately, one thing after the next just isn’t going right, whether it is the delivery or the students’ reaction or a simple miscalculation that set things on a different course. What are you going to do?

Here are your options:

  1. Pretend nothing is wrong and keep going as planned.
  2. Proceed as planned without acknowledging that it isn’t happening as you wanted it to and keep moving forward the next day. Hopefully reflecting on what didn’t go right and changing it in the future.
  3. Stop where you are in your tracks. Explain to the kids that you want to do better; this isn’t happening as well as you hoped it would and brainstorm with them how to make it better. Come back to school the next day and do it over, better. Then take the time to really think about where you went wrong and try to avoid it in the future, knowing full well, that it can happen again, but you’ll be better prepared next time.

In my early career, I would have been too afraid to admit I didn’t do something well. It seemed weak to me to show my kids I didn’t know, but man was I ignorant.

After a great many more years in the classroom, I have learned that this kind of honesty, that I don’t know everything, has made me a much better teacher. It opens up the opportunity for us to learn together, flattening the playing field and allowing me to learn with my students.

Although I may know a lot more about writing or literature than I did at the beginning of my career, there is so much that changes in the world all the time. We must model what it looks like to be lifelong learners, taking mistakes in stride and always pushing forward.

What choice will you make the next time things don’t go as planned? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.