When working with children and youth in the classroom, teachers walk a fine line between showing their leadership and admitting their own humanity. One questions first how best to gain, and maintain, control while at the same time setting a positive example on how to hold oneself responsible for mistakes made. Complete control also calls for humility and honesty at times and neither trait should ever be seen as a weakness. It takes greater strength and self-confidence to admit failure than to attempt to hide it; even more so when facing a classroom of young eyes watching you as a role model.
*True Leaders Admit Mistakes
It’s a common misconception that leadership in the classroom is earned through flawless, tireless work. New teachers are more prone to believe this philosophy. Some feel that to admit they made a mistake, whether it be to their principal, their coworkers, or their students, would be to admit that they are not capable of being teachers. The truth is just the opposite! It is better to admit, then to stubbornly keep on going as if you are always right and the students are wrong. Instead of gaining control, this tactic will only cause a classroom to spiral out of control. Why?
*The Result of Being Stubborn
Students can see right through a teacher’s attempt at denial. That’s right! Students are keenly aware of a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses. Think back to when you were in school. Remember that one teacher who always had to be right? Of course you do. You also remember that this same teacher rarely had control of his/her classroom. There was always some student willing to call the teacher out on a mistake because the teacher’s reaction was usually the same.
If the teacher was the confrontational type, he or she would stop class to address the student who caught the mistake. There would be a pause, a moment of silence. The teacher would scan the room as if searching for the right words to say, the best comeback. Then, usually red-faced and sweating, the teacher would animatedly explain how the mistake simply did not exist and that the student was the one who actually made the mistake. Invariably, the lesson would never be finished and the teacher possibly assigned a lengthy homework assignment which required you to teach yourself the material in order to complete it.
Now if the teacher was the passive type, a slightly different reaction ensued. A blush of embarrassment would appear on the teacher’s face, but he or she would try to ignore being called out on the mistake. The teacher would keep on with the lesson, but you and the rest of your classmates no longer paid attention. Instead, you would be focused on pointing out even more mistakes. Then, when the teacher assigned the homework, there would be no use in you working on it. Once again control was lost.
Either way, the lesson was a total disaster and the student/teacher relationship further strained.
*The Result of Being Truthful
Having to admit one’s mistakes can be painful, but eventually healing. It’s human not wanting to admit to failure, but even more so when in a place of leadership. Teachers are no exception. Since they are supposed to be experts in their subject area or grade level, some teachers feel that admitting to mistakes is more dangerous than beneficial. Quite the opposite is true. Being an expert does not mean being perfect. When teachers are willing to admit to their own mistakes and work towards correcting the situation, they set a positive moral example for their students to follow. If a teacher is open to admitting error, a student is more open to doing so as well. Respect between teacher and student is created in this type of relationship. And with respect comes learning.
However, the key to admitting one’s mistakes as a teacher must be coupled with the ability to work towards correcting the mistake. There is no use in teachers always telling their students when they mess up if they keep making the same mistakes. This repetitive cycle will only cause the students to not trust or depend on their teacher.
So should a teacher apologize to their students if they make a mistake? Yes, but only if he or she is willing to make improvements so that similar mistakes are not repeated.