You’ve Made a Mistake- Now What??!!

Every person who has ever taught a class has made an error of some sort. Sometimes you know you’ve made one immediately, while sometimes the mistake becomes evident only after a period of time.

I was recently contacted by an adjunct professor who had been provided by her university with a syllabus, lesson plans, assignment instructions, grading rubrics, etc. for a very technical class. One of the assignments had a set of relatively complex instructions. Five weeks into the project, she discovered to her horror that she had interpreted the instructions for the assignment in a certain way, and while half of the class had followed her lead, the other half of the class had interpreted them completely differently. Because of this, this second group was generating work that was different than that of their classmates. How should a professor handle something like this and still be fair to all?

While there were a number of solutions to this specific problem, the key to resolving any problem that arises from a teacher error is to admit to the class that you made a mistake. Give them a brief outline of what happened- they don’t need to know all the details, just enough to give them a picture of what led to the confusion/misunderstanding/error. This shows them that you are on top of it now, and that you understand the necessity of working towards a fair solution. Then present them with that solution, which is just what this professor did.

In this case, the best solution had to strike a balance between what was done by both groups prior to discovery of the error, what the assignment originally intended (learning outcomes), how well the work already done by both groups would achieve the learning outcomes of the assignment, and importantly how the professor wanted to grade the assignment from this point forward.

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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Practical Issues, Preparing to Teach, Tales from the Classroom, Teaching Practice and tagged , by Jane Alden Stevens. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jane Alden Stevens

Jane Alden Stevens is a photographer and educator who is Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati. An active artist, Stevens has exhibited and published her work extensively both in the US and abroad. She is the author of “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered” (2004). In the course of her teaching career, Stevens taught courses in film, photography, and professional practices for fine artists. Her interest in teaching practices was deepened when she started teaching the "Graduate Teaching Workshop", a required graduate level course for fine artists and art historians that prepares them to teach the courses they will later be assigned. She was also involved in the Preparing Future Faculty program at the University of Cincinnati, which prepares masters and doctoral students across all programs for teaching at the university level. She has conducted pedagogy workshops for a variety of universities, as well as participated in academic practicum panels at educational conferences. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, Stevens was honored with the all-university Cohen Award for Excellence in University Teaching at the University of Cincinnati in 2002 and Professor of the Year honors in her college in 2011.

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