I have a vivid memory of an incident in my kindergarten class. It changed my life, and not for the better. It was innocuous, something that happens every day. The teacher asked a question, and the pupils raised their hands, accompanied by enthusiastic cries of “I know,” and “Pick me.” She selected an eager boy who blurted out the wrong answer. The backlash was immediate. The students laughed, they pointed fingers, and someone called him stupid. I will never forget his expression. I almost cried. It mortified our teacher, and she valiantly attempted to correct the misbehavior. The damage was done. He never volunteered to answer another question. Neither did I.
School became a minefield requiring strategic planning to evade embarrassment, shame, and the ridicule of my peers. I was luckier than some. I had taught myself to read before I started kindergarten, and it was a pattern I continued. My game plan was working ahead in each subject area. While my second-grade classmates studied second-grade material, I was devising ways to access third-grade coursework, and master the concepts, alone. Failure was shameful, and I worked to avoid it at all costs, while I attained mastery in private, far from judgmental eyes. The public library had copies of my school’s textbooks, and I used them in my self-imposed summer prep program.
Errors were evil mental monsters, and to survive, I eliminated the possibility of committing a public faux pas. The result was that I fell into a cycle of perceived perfection. Say hello to a boring existence. Spontaneity, fun, shared discovery, and camaraderie were absent from my learning experience.
Circumstances change, nothing stays the same, and valuable lessons arise not only in school but in adult life. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes — they are an integral component of the way we learn. A study found that mistake-friendly classrooms increased student effort. Students learned more and experienced more success. Imagine what would transpire if we created safe environments where mistakes were considered a natural part of growth? What if we fostered compassion, respect, and valued the ability to understand and be understood? That is a world where I want to live.
How do you handle mistakes?
Keep on writing.
Jo Hawk The Writer