At lunch the first day, a man came up to me and introduced himself. "I am Doug and I was in your Advanced Keyboard Class in 1975." I so delighted to see him again because he was one student from whom I had learned a very important lesson. I said, "Do you know, every year I tell my Pedagogy Class a story involving you. Would you like to hear it?" He looked very surprised and nodded his consent. Here is the story:
I was hired one week before classes began because the previous instructor had taken a job elsewhere. Doug was in my first Advanced Keyboard Skills Class. Figured Bass was one of the requirements. It had been 10 years since my college figured bass class and my knowledge was sketchy, to say the least. Every night before class, I studied the text in order to be prepared for the next class. About two weeks into the term, I turned the page and realized that everything I had taught about figured bass up to this point ~ was wrong. I was stunned, so what to do. I knew to try to cover up my mistake would not work. I had only one course of action.
The next day I began class with "I have some bad new and some good news." The students opted for the bad news first.
"Everything I have taught you about figured bass up to this point has been wrong." Silence. Someone ventured "The good news?" I replied "You don"t have to remember it." No one laughed. I apologized and we began again.
A few weeks later, Doug made a comment about the figured bass episode. I stopped class and asked Doug to share his feelings about this. He answered most honestly "As the teacher, you should not have made that mistake." This was a magic moment for me. I paused, reflected a moment and said "You are all going to be teachers. So based on Doug's belief, none of you will ever make a mistake." We spent the remainder of class sharing our views on what it means to be wrong, on the value of owning when you do not know, of modeling to students that it's alright not to know and most importantly, realizing that mistakes are one of our greatest learning tools. Thank you Doug.