Saturday, March 31, 2007

Culpa

I began class the other day by reviewing (very briefly) the indirect command and then asking for a quick outline of the story we were translating before picking up in the middle and moving forward. I was met with blank stares. I asked again, even calling upon some students by name. I was becoming frustrated and could feel my blood-pressure rising; I was thinking that no one in the class had bothered to do the assignment. Then I looked down at my lesson plans and realized that I had not even introduced the indirect command to them and they had not been assigned the translation... we had not even begun the translation! I paused. I smiled. I laughed. And then I told them to never mind -- that was the other class' assignment. Some looked relieved, some smiled, others looked annoyed (but that's OK, they look annoyed most of the time). I teach on the alternating day (A-B) block scheduling system and had confused my "A" day class with my "B" which was a couple days ahead.

I have made mistakes in the classroom before. I can remember introducing a topic once (I forget what it was) and, although not bothering to review my notes ahead of time, presented it to my students with great confidence and flourish. I scribbled away on the board and they dutifully took the notes. Then I told them to open up their books and look at some examples for practice. I was horrified (internally) to discover that what I had spent the last fifteen minutes or so explaining was wrong... very wrong. I paused. I smiled. I laughed. And then I told them to never mind, "Please take the notes you just wrote, rip them out of your notebook, and throw them away!" I even picked up the trash can and carried it desk to desk so that they could throw their notes away. I explained that, yes, even I made mistakes and that I had just made a big one. I then took a bow and said, "Let's start again."

In my twenty years of teaching, I have made numerous mistakes. I humbly express my mea culpas and move forward. Students need to see that teachers make mistakes, but, even more importantly, they need to see their teachers admitting them and correcting them. Some of what we teach in the classroom has little to do with the subject matter described in the course catalog. None of us is perfect and none of us should lead our students to believe that we are. Part of learning language is making mistakes and having those mistakes corrected and, thus, providing experiences to build on.

I remember early one morning in Rome. I awoke and slipped out of the hotel before my students were to meet downstairs for breakfast. I went to the cafe next door and confidently ordered, "Uno cappuccino, per favore." I had been practicing the phrase all the way to the counter because I wanted to use what little Italian I knew. The man behind the counter held up a thumb and said, "Un cappucino." I replied, "Grazie" and he gave me wink. I think I gave him a large tip and went on to enjoy my coffee at the table outside. Even though I know (in Latin) that adjectives agree in case, number, and gender, and that the adjective does not need to have the same ending as the noun, I now know that this Italian adjective doesn't end in an "o" but it still agrees with cappucino.

One of my students came to me yesterday and claimed that she had a teacher who had used a Latin phrase in the classroom. My student told her teacher that she had used it incorrectly. The teacher indignantly replied, "How do you know?" My student replied that she was a Latin student. The teacher snorted that she (the teacher) knew what she was talking about and continued on.

This teacher was unwilling to admit a mistake and, in doing so, lost some respect in the eyes of a student. We as teachers need to realize that we do have more experience and training, but we are not smarter or better than our students.

1 comment:

ginlindzey said...

MEA CULPA MEA CULPA MEA MAXIMA CULPA is what I use all the time.

A month ago I started in on a chapter of Ecce with my Latin 2's... I had a nice diagram/drawing of items in the story, etc, and was well underway when a student asked why we skipped a chapter!

As for the teacher that couldn't admit that they were wrong, good grief, I have the most egregious mistakes all the time. Ok, maybe not all the time, but I'm not perfect. The students know I'm doing my best, that I have multiple preps, that I'm still trying to go the extra mile for them and sometimes I get that mile but the road is not well-paved.