Is the teacher supposed to get it wrong?

Oops. Nothing feels worse than making a mistake that could confuse your students for days, if not weeks.

Today, in a summer course for new econ teachers, I drew a graph wrong. That really shouldn’t happen at this point — I’ve done this for years, and I know how to show firms shifting production from one good to another along a production possibilities curve.

Honestly… so embarrassing.

But I was paying attention to the numbers, not the underlying concept, and I drew the points in the wrong places. I knew right away it didn’t look right, so I switched gears and explained the concept (increasing opportunity costs) in a different way.

Eventually, one of the participants asked a question that clarified my error. I won’t explain the details here — you probably don’t care how many apples we give up to get one carrot — but yikes, I felt stupid.

I always wonder: Does this happen to other teachers? And how do they respond? Do they deny? Apologize? Crawl under a rock?

It used to just kill me when I messed up. I’d get sweaty palms, start talking faster, try to rationalize my way out of my mistake. Then I’d re-read and over-plan and over-think my lessons for the next few days, figuring “better safe than sorry.”

I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but a few years ago I stopped freaking out about making mistakes. I started embracing the “I’m not perfect” mantra. (Maybe it was when my team first made it to the National Econ Challenge finals in New York, and I realized that yes, I do actually know what I’m doing most of the time.)

Whatever the reason, it was a great weight off my shoulders. When I stopped stressing about screwing up, I started to feel more comfortable trying new things, like open-ended simulations and debates. I started asking more questions I didn’t know the answer to — and encouraging students to challenge my ideas in class. It became easier to welcome administrators into my classroom, to present workshops to teachers, to take on new preps.

The best part is, the students like seeing me make mistakes. I don’t mean like it as schadenfreude — the joy people get from other’s misfortune — but like it because it frees them to try new things and make mistakes too.

Hopefully my mis-drawn graph won’t cause these brand new econ teachers confusion when they try to draw their own production possibilities curves this year. They’re going to present lesson activities to their classmates in a fall session, too, and hopefully this experience will actually make that less stressful for them.

I hope what sticks isn’t my mistake, but the ability to make mistakes and recover. If so, it was definitely worth the temporary embarrassment.