Why boo-boos make us smarter bears

15th June 2012 at 01:00

Lots of popular quotations can be found about mistakes. Often they are the kinds of trite lines you might see on the side of a mug, or printed on a cutesy poster in Comic Sans font below a picture of a kitten doing something adorably dumb.

We should not be afraid of mistakes, we are told. Making mistakes is part of being human. And, yes, we all learn from our mistakes. Those sentiments are cosy truisms because they are, of course, true. They are not just fake encouragement for the children with paint all over their clothes.

Teachers know more about learning from their errors than most professionals. It is hard to hide your mistakes when you are standing in front of an audience who are gleefully looking out for any slip-up and will then rush to tell all the other children at break time.

So, as a change from presenting examples of excellent teaching practice, this week's special report is a list of 18 classroom mistakes. It is a How Not To Teach guide, if you will. Its author Gerald Haigh, a former teacher and head, has been contributing to TES for nearly half a century, so he has witnessed more teaching errors than most. Some of the mistakes he lists, such as "shouting", may not strike you as mistakes. You may be able to think of many scenarios in which shouting is not just valid, but vital ("CONNOR! Get your SLEEVE away from the LATHE!"). But rules exist to be broken, and Top 10-style articles are designed to provoke debate and disagreement.

The mistakes you make in the classroom will help you to improve your teaching, if you recognise them. The disclaimer we would add here is that this does not apply to the kinds of career-limiting mistakes that could land you in front of a tribunal (such as the bored teacher who decided to browse porn on the internet while invigilating an exam, forgetting to unplug the projector).

Nor does it apply to any errors that kill you. As the American writer Al Franken puts it, "Mistakes are precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way - unless it's a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from". Feel free to get that printed on a mug.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro

michael.shaw@tes.co.uk @mrmichaelshaw.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today