When I first became a teacher, close to twenty years ago, I had this idea in my head that I always had to know the answers to any potential questions my students might have about the topic we were looking at. I would go over concepts, plan my teaching strategies for any and every contingency. And this was the way I taught, I won’t lie, that is how I taught for a lot of years. I was firm in my belief in that this was an integral part of my job – to make sure I had all the answers. How embarrassing would it be if some student asked me the answer and I was not sure. I am more embarrassed to say if a situation arose and I didn’t know the answer, I would somehow change the topic rather than be honest and say those important words “I don’t know….”
So which brings me to where I am today, still teaching, still not completely knowing all the answers. The difference is I have realized that it’s okay if I don’t. My students participated in “Hour of Code” this week and I was very hesitant to try this with my students. I didn’t really know anything about coding, so what would I do if a question came up, I definitely would not have the answer. But, I bit the bullet, and tried it anyway because it seemed too amazing an experience for me to pass up for my students.
And guess what, I ended up having that moment where I had to face it – I didn’t know the answer to the question my student was asking. Two of my boys had reached a level in the coding program they were trying out and they just could not figure out the steps to meet the challenge being asked of them, so they came to me. I could have told them to shut it down and try a different coding program so I would not have to admit I did not have a clue what to do. Instead I was honest with them and told them I didn’t know, so I suggested we work together to see if we could figure it out. It ended up that it wasn’t me that figured out the solution. As the three of us were sitting there trying to put the puzzle pieces together, a student from the other class participating came up and said, “Oh you need to take this piece and put it here and then do this….” He explained what we were missing, it was this student that came up with the answer. The boys and I thanked him and the look on his face was so great – he had taught a teacher something. Why we as teachers think this is a bad thing I am unsure, I realized at that moment that I had given that student a boost of confidence in himself, he could teach others what he knew. He possibly might not be the strongest writer, might struggle with reading, but coding put us all on the same level playing field. We were all beginners trying to figure things out. By taking the chance on doing this activity, I had actually given that student something that was just as important as any lesson I could have taught him in the classroom.
So now I’m not scared when that moment comes and I have to face the possibility that I don’t know the answer because now I say …. “You know I don’t really know, but how about we figure it out together.” and I think that’s okay.