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Devin makes a mistake and doesn’t die

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Devin taught three sections of Basic Algebra. On most days his class was well-behaved, took notes on the material he presented and asked few questions. Most students were also doing pretty well on the unit tests. One day Devin made a mistake in working through a homework problem. One student challenged him and another defended Devin’s method, saying she had done it that way herself. The students engaged in a dynamic debate while Devin tried to figure out what he had done wrong. After he corrected the mistake, the class quieted down and continued with the daily work. At the time, Devin was flustered by his mistake, but later the incident made him wonder about what he could do to bring that kind of energetic debate into his classroom more often.
The debate in the classroom made Devin’s assumptions about teachers, students and learning apparent in a couple of ways. First, he had to think about what it meant if the teacher was not always right. Then, he had to consider the ways that he informally assessed student learning. Previously, he had always considered the quiet in his class a sign of success. Now he wasn’t so sure. The discomfort raised by this incident makes it a powerful one to share with a mentor.
When Devin told this story to his mentor after school, Marilyn immediately tried to reassure him. “It still happens to me,” she said. “Sometimes I even pretend that I made the mistake on purpose to get them talking.”
Devin took a risk by admitting to an experienced teacher that he had made a mistake in front of his students. Marilyn acts to build trust by reassuring him that she too shares this problem.

Devin asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to make a mistake on purpose?”

“I don’t know,” said Marilyn. “What are you trying to do?”

Devin said he would really like to have the energy inspired by his error in the class more often, but that ideally he’d like to do it without looking like an idiot. Marilyn laughed and suggested that they look together at Devin’s plans for the rest of the week and think about a place where they could build a mathematical argument into the lesson.

Here Marilyn makes another move as a mentor. Rather than simply trying to calm Devin down, she seeks to link his concern to instruction. When Devin restates his concern, Marilyn offers a suggestion for how they might build on his idea.