I remember the first time a teacher was wrong. I was in third grade and attending Sunday school classes at a local church. I was the only student in the class with a non-Catholic parent. (What what, Jewish dad!) This particular Sunday, our teacher was out sick and was replaced by the kindly older gentleman who ran the program. In discussing Jesus and how the cool thing about going to confession is that if you get hit by a bus right afterward (and haven’t masturbated yet), you go straight to heaven, this nice old man said that “the rabbis killed Jesus because they were jealous.” Now, I was only ten at this point and did not know how deeply wrong and offensive this claim was. So, after Papa Yagoda picked me up from class, I shared this interesting bit of history about our people. Cue shrieking brakes and double takes and my mother making calls to the church. The next week, the man made a very specific “apology” to the class, while staring directly at me.
The next time a teacher was wrong, I fought back. I was in seventh grade in 2000-2001 and was deeply interested in politics (I even wrote some really horrible political poetry about how brave Al Gore was). Being the daughter of a stridently partisan Democrat, I was well versed in the “vast right wing conspiracy” against the Clintons. So, you could bet that I knew my stuff about what impeachment meant. Hell, my family and I taped the damn vote and I still come across that old VHS when I go home for a visit. So, when Mr. T (no relation), my social studies teacher, said that impeachment meant to be removed from office, my hand shot into the air. I tried to correct him and used the definition from our textbook to prove my point. I also pointed out that two presidents– Clinton and Andrew Johnson– have been impeached, but that neither were ousted. Mr. T denied that Clinton was impeached (“because if he were, he wouldn’t have stayed president”) and said, in regards to Johnson, that it was too long ago to really say what had happened. After about 20 minutes of this back and forth, peer pressure got the best of me and class continued on.
Throughout my years as a student, I have encountered many teachers who have made incorrect statements. To occasionally be wrong is no great failing. It would likely be impossible for a teacher to remember every single date, name, battle, and place included in a history curriculum without confusing Presidents Madison and Monroe once (which one was the short one?!). But the mark of an excellent educator is a willingness to acknowledge and correct their own mistakes.
Since starting grad school only six weeks ago, I have noticed that a substantial amount of false or misleading information has been represented as fact by my professors. Some of it has been easily correctable (Uganda and Kenya were not at one point part of the same country) and graciously acknowledged, but some of it has been deeply troubling. I’ve already written about my Intro to Special Ed professor’s comments on race and the achievement gap. Recently, he made a claim that talk therapy is a waste of money and that it only works for people who are insecure/have low self-esteem. Now, I’ve benefited from talk therapy but I also sometimes think I’m the hottest thing since sliced bread, so where does that leave me? To put it bluntly, I’ve basically hit a wall with being able to deal with a teacher who refuses to listen to student reactions to and disagreements with what he says, which is almost never substantiated with any sort of evidence. Earlier in the term, I had the emotional energy to engage with him on things he said, like that the only stimulating outlet for students with ADHD before the invention of video games was masturbation. Now, I just let him ramble on as I imagine the biting things I will say on my course evaluation. Is this a repeat of my seventh grade interactions with Mr. T? Should I fight this professor tooth and nail, even if it means that the majority of class time is filled by us yelling at each other? Presumably, this would be an even bigger waste of time than learning, for the third time, how a token economy system works. Should I listen to my mother and sit quietly, take notes, allow this professor to spread his uninformed opinions, and hope to get an A?
In a year, if everything goes to plan, I will be on the verge of facing my first class as a licensed teacher. How will I deal with students who disagree with me? Or with those who correct me? I hope that I will be able to acknowledge my mistakes, which are certain to be many. I imagine that if I don’t, my students will quickly take the same tack that I have, bemused ignorance. If I say that the state motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die Hard,” will my students even care enough to correct me?