I have learned a lot from the students I work with, as most teachers do. I never know what a day will hold when I show up to our classroom—the special needs students I teach make sure of that.
Most of the children in our class have autism. Autism is a ‘spectrum disorder’ meaning the symptoms and behaviors can vary like the speed on a speedometer—low functioning, non-verbal children would be near the zero end of the dial, high functioning, very verbal would be at 120.
And some days with our students it can feel like they’re going 120 miles an hour. Especially with Jenny (not her real name).
One of the negative effects on children with autism is the tricks their disordered brains can play on them. One of them, in Jenny’s case, is that she loathes making mistakes. Because of her rigid way of thinking there is no room for error. Her reactions to correction are deeply personal, as if you are attacking her character or worth when you point out the need for an eraser.
This can be a challenge needless to say, because in an Elementary classroom we are all about learning. And there are a LOT of ‘oopsies’ and ‘do-overs. That’s how ALL children learn, whether they have special needs or are able learners. Mistakes are a way of life.
There are five women in our room serving the needs of the varying disabilities of our kids and as a team we have to be on the same page about how we respond to negative behaviours. Jenny’s especially, as her intensity when she reacts to being corrected can be very loud, sudden and destructive.
We came up with a line we decided to use when WE make a mistake—or a ‘stake’, as Jenny calls it.
We just call it like it is, “Oops, I made a mistake.”
Or, “That’s okay, everyone makes mistakes, that’s how we learn.”
We own it. Often. We are humans. We are women. You will hear, “Oops, I made a mistake” many times throughout the day.
Modeling this positive self-talk is beginning to make a difference in the way Jenny responds to her errors and correction; she is being re-trained to give herself the grace she needs and deserves. Her sometimes very violent reactions—screaming out loud, tearing her papers—have lessened over the year and now she can sometimes laugh with us when we forget something—“You made a ‘stake, Mrs. Collins.”
Yes, I make mistakes.
I’m finding, thankfully, this practice at work is helping me in life outside the classroom. I am learning to say when I mistake the facts in a conversation (most often with my husband), “Oh, my mistake.”
When I make an assumption or overreact verbally (incorrectly), “Oh, sorry, my mistake.”
The opportunities for owning my errors are endless. Sigh.
God always manages to make sure that is the case.
Turns out this is for my own good; it is very freeing to simply confess, “There was an error and it was mine.” No sugar-coating it, escaping it, ignoring it—just acknowledging it.
It feels good.
The harder confessions are the ones where I sin—raising my voice, being impatient, interrupting—the actions that are more than ‘stakes, that hurt others and displease the Lord.
My confessions at times like that are the most heartfelt and necessary—just say what you did, Jody, ask for forgiveness and move on.
These confessions keep my negative behaviours to a minimum.
They keep me from breaking the speed limit and running someone over with my words.
Keep me from accidents, or helps repair them. It paves the way to freedom, ultimately.
On the other side of my mistakes (sin) there is the comfort of God’s forgiveness, every moment of every day, no matter how many times He hears it.
I am getting better at this, thanks to Jenny, owning and confessing my mistakes.
It is true–teachers always learn the most from their students.