The word Mistake is defined by Websters Dictionary as: choose erroneously; regard (something) as other than it is; misunderstand or to be in error.
It is very clear to see that by definition Mistakes are not viewed in a positive manner. We all hate making mistakes...but do we know why? Is it because we have to fix the mistake? Or because there is now "extra work" involved in finding a solution to your moment of ill-mindedness? Or is it simply because making mistakes leaves us vulnerable? These thoughts ran through my mind today as I slowly watch one of my students begin to tear up when I told her we needed to fix a mistake on her paper. I wasn't angry with her at all, nor did I scold her for making a mistake I simply smiled and said " That is a beautiful looking six but I think we put the tail on the wrong side. Can we erase and fix our mistake?". My heart dropped as her bright blue eyes began to fill with tears and her little nose slowly started turning red. My mind immediately began racing on how to fix the problem before it escalated....but I didn't know what the problem was. I quietly knelt down beside her and took her small hands in mine she quickly began to relax but would not look me in the eye. Then I asked " Why are you crying? It's OK to make mistakes ...I make them all the time." Her dark hair moved back in forth as she shook her head in disagreement and quietly mumbled in between sniffles " It's not a good thing to make mistakes. Mommy said that they aren't good and gets really mad when I make them.". I was somewhat taken back by the child's response but I also understood exactly where she was coming from. I, just like many of us I'm sure, have made mistakes that have left people disappointed with me..to say the least. As I watched this tears fall quietly from this five year old girls eyes I began to wonder...when were we 'taught' that mistakes weren't good? what kind of mistakes has this little girl made at home to develop such a dramatic reaction?!.....Then something clicked! Ah HA!!! I've got it...I smiled and whispered for the girl to look me in the eye and said " Your mommy may not like it...but I LOVE it when you make mistakes." The girl almost immediately stopped crying and looked at me like I was insane. I continued " Yup! I sure do...would you like to know why?" she shook her head still looking at me like I was crazy ...."Well," I began " when you make mistakes it shows me that you are learning and that's why we are in school right? to learn?" ....she smiled and agreed "Great! So when you make a mistake it isn't a bad thing at all, it actually helps me to know that you are learning and it makes me very happy to know that you are learning!!!" Finally, she smiled and began to giggle in relief...I had done it!!!
I was glad that the situation had been fixed before it got out of hand, but I was still amazed at the little girls response to making a mistake. She is five years old....FIVE and she is deathly afraid of making mistakes already...in Kindergarten! Now, I remember at that age that my fears included: the dark, spiders and getting into trouble. It was not until later (after a math incident with a student teacher) that I too, developed a fear or making mistakes and asking questions. Like many teachers, I sympathize with students who struggle or are experiencing similar problems that I did when I was their age. And since I have the tools and the understanding I always try my best to help my students the way I wish someone would have helped me.
As I drove home I found myself somewhat torn between what had occurred today. Part of me was pleased with the fact that I had showed one of my students that making mistakes was a part of learning. The other half of me was disappointed with the fact that so many people, including myself, have been raised to view mistakes as a bad thing. I wonder how our lives, education and relationships could have been altered had we been told that in life we learn and when we learn we make mistakes..... because no one is perfect!??
But to tell you the truth ...I'm kinda glad no one told me, because then I wouldn't be able to understand or sympathize with my students who do have these struggles. Nor would I have had the opportunity to make the brilliant new view on mistakes. :)
Mistakes, they provide you with the opportunity to begin again...only this time more wisely!