540. When Teachers Don’t Know

Teachers don’t know everything. I’ll bet you’ve already figured that out. Some teachers are embarrassed about not knowing everything, and try to hide their lack of omniscience. Some get angry when pupils or others challenge their statements. Whether they’re right or not, they want to be thought of as right. As a volunteer, I quickly learn which teachers like to be corrected and which don’t, and I mostly correct the ones who like it. As for me, I like to be corrected (although I suspect that I’d enjoy being perfect even more).
Teachers were once pupils, and not everything they learned was correct. Some of what they learned was wrong from the start, some they forgot, and some they never really learned. My favorite example is spelling, because I’m pretty good at it, and because so many people aren’t; I get to be an expert. I don’t believe that it’s an important skill, but I’m glad it’s so easy for me. It’s a stumbling block for most children and adults I know. I wish I could believe it were more important, because then I’d have another reason to think I’m great. But really, correct spelling, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
Some people really seem to expect teachers to know everything. I think it’s because of the way they think of teaching and learning. Learners, they think, are people who don’t know yet, and so teachers must be people who already do. What are they teaching for, such people wonder, if there are things they don’t know?
I like it when children find out that there are things adults don’t know. It makes them feel better about not knowing things; it takes some of the pressure off. Some children are disillusioned at first, but disillusionment is a pretty good thing; it’s a kind of learning. Illusions weren’t supposed to be there in the first place. Teachers, instead of pretending to know everything, are in a great position to show pupils how to behave and what to do when they don’t know something.
I’ve observed teachers who are secure enough to admit that there are things they haven’t learned. And I’ve observed teachers who aren’t. I’ve seen children erase their correct spellings and replace them with misspellings the teacher has given them. I’ve also seen children who have known that their teachers were fallible, and I’ve seen a variety of ways children have dealt with that knowledge. Correcting the teacher can be risky business, but like some teachers, some children can’t bear to leave an error uncorrected.
A lot of my essays give you ideas about how to deal with various problems. This time, though, I think I’ve described a common problem without giving you a reliable way to solve it. But that’s okay. I’m not perfect.

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