How to Bounce Back After You Mess Up [Episode 114]


Click below to hear how to bounce back after a mistake in the classroom:

Have you ever made a mistake in your classroom? Or handled a situation differently that caused more problems or regretted how you handled it? I am raising my hand high in the air! Even though it feels like you’re the only teacher something like this has ever happened to, in reality, you’re not alone. 

I received an email a few months back that resonated with me, and I knew it would resonate with y’all as well. It was from a second career teacher who shared her struggle with this exact topic. But how can you bounce back? Since I knew this was something every teacher could relate to, I wanted to make it a podcast episode to share some encouragement. So, in today’s episode, I’m sharing my advice for when you make a mistake in the classroom and some ways to be proactive in the future.

Even though we try everything to avoid it, making a mistake in the classroom is inevitable, but it’s how you bounce back that makes all the difference. While I offer words of encouragement and share my own mistakes from when I was in the classroom, I also provide advice. This advice includes a three-step process on ways to admit when you’re wrong, identify ways it could’ve been prevented, how to make it right, and, most importantly, move on and learn from it.

It can be a defeating feeling when you’ve made a mistake, or a negative situation has happened in your classroom. Trust me, I’ve been there. However, it shows more about who you are as a teacher on how you bounce back than the actual mistake. So I’m here to remind you that trials and mistakes will happen, but use them as an opportunity to grow and learn from them to be better as an educator.

Topics Discussed:

  • How to look at parent conferences as a positive and benefit your relationship and communication
  • Ways to bounce back after a mistake in the classroom
  • A three-step process on what you can do after a mistake
  • Why having a supportive administration is critical when mistakes are made
  • Words of encouragement if you’re in this season and reassurance you’re not alone

Resources Mentioned:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:01
A few months ago, I received an email that read as follows. I’m a second career teacher teaching honors and regular chemistry for the first time this year to do school. It’s a well established school and the faculty are all amazing and really supportive. My question is, how do you bounce back from something that happens at school that you don’t feel good about? Maybe overcoming adversity as a first year teacher, and she went on to say, my first thought class is rough. They’re low energy, hard to motivate, I struggle to connect with half the students. The only two parent meetings I’ve had this year outside conferences had been with families of students in this class. Last week, I had one with a parent who wanted the upper school director there as well. And she laid into me from the get go, which just doesn’t feel good. Then the next morning in that class, there was an accident involving a beaker of warm, dilute acid dropping on the floor. And it splashed the outside pant leg of student, there was a fair amount of acid in there, and we got to use a safety shower and find the student a new pair of pants. My mentor, teacher and director are very supportive and have said many encouraging things. But I still feel awful. You know, all the secret terrible things, you think to yourself when something bad happens that you feel like you could have prevented? That’s where I am. And y’all I read that because I just think what she is expressing here and struggling with is so common. I’m sure so many of you listen to me read that. And he thought, Yes, sister, I’ve been there. And I think especially for us science teachers, the pressure is so on. I mean, yeah, we are using things that are dangerous, you may have to use the safety shower, or the fire extinguisher or whatever. So I responded to her several months ago when she sent this. And I told her, You know what this is, this would be a great podcast episode. So I’m going to do a podcast episode about this, too. So that is what we’re going to talk about today. How do you bounce back after you mess up in the classroom? Because let’s be real, it is inevitable. Let’s dive in. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their job, serve their students, and do it all and only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time you spend in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend, let’s get to today’s episode.

So if the start of this podcast felt familiar to you, in any capacity, I just want to start by saying you are not alone. You know, especially if you are a first year teacher, like this teacher is. And I think especially if you are coming to teaching as a second career, I think oftentimes in the conversations I’ve had with people who are coming to teaching after having done another profession, and they didn’t have you know, that traditional full student teaching experience, you know, maybe they’re doing some sort of alternative certification. So they’re not having all of this experience that you may have gotten. But even if you have had all of that, even if you’re a fifth year, 10th year, 15th year teacher, I think we have all been there. But especially that first year, we all feel this way. I mean, I had like a traditional college degree in education, student teaching experience, whatever. I still was like, What am I doing my first year teaching, we are honestly, all clueless, and we’re just pretending like we aren’t. And I think it’s so apparent in that first year. But I also think it really flares up again, you feel like a brand new teacher, again, when you change schools when you get a new prep. So this, this is a recurring theme, which is why I was like this is worth an entire podcast episode to talk about this. Okay. So I want to start by encouraging you that you are exactly where you should be. And everything you are feeling is totally normal, if you resonate with that, okay. And a little confession time here. I got really lucky my first two years of teaching because I was at a school that does semester block, which I think is the best because you almost get twice the amount of experience in one school year because you have classes for an entire semester, and you restart in January with a whole new group. So I absolutely loved that. I was feeling pretty good. You know, after my first semester, I was like, I kind of think I have the hang of things. And then my second semester, I got this fourth block class and y’all I mean, I don’t have time to go into all the stories. It was insane. Okay, these students tested me and it wasn’t even that big. class, there was like 18 of them. But it was like 16 out of 18 were extremely strong personalities. And it was a lot. And I made a lot of mistakes, not only with how I failed to manage them as a class well, but also, like, we had a small fire, you know, on my watch, when I was teaching, so I just want to encourage you that mistakes do happen. Now, I also want to encourage you, if you heard her sharing about those two bad parent conferences she had, and you were like, I’ve been there, okay. And I want to let you know, parent conferences are not a sign that you are doing a bad job because you have to have them. Okay, parent conferences are necessary. And they are part of this job, just because you have to have 567 of them, you know, maybe more, that does not mean you’re a bad teacher. I will say like my first few years teaching, I avoided them like the plague, like I did not want to have a parent conference. And then I moved to a new school, and I moved from a public school to a private school. And the parents are so invested, which reasonably so because they’re spending so much money on their kids education. But y’all, I had 15 parent teacher conference requests, in the first three weeks that I was there. I mean, talk about feeling like a failure, I felt literally terrible about that. But the more I did, then the less intimidating they became. And I got better at learning how to talk to parents, about students, and to be really positive, and to really show them how I was serving their students. And I got to the point, after a year of doing this, that I was like, I think every teacher should have parent conferences with every single family if they can within the first month or two of school, and then from then on as often as needed. But I started to make that my goal as a teacher, like, I would encourage all of the parents, I would love to meet with you within the first quarter. These are the afternoons that I’ve set aside time that I can meet with you or I really guys, I like to do it in the morning. Because then the bell rings, and they have to leave like the afternoon, it can be kind of harder to usher people out of your classroom. But I really did try to meet with them all. I just think you can make so much more relational progress with a family, if you’re having these conversations face to face, rather than over the phone or over email. And I just think the sooner the better. Like, especially if you can talk before there even is any conflict, then when you meet them, it can all be positive, it can be more informational. It doesn’t have to be like, Hey, your son’s been driving me crazy for four months. And I’m finally at my wit’s end. So the last resort is calling you in for a parent conference, which is kind of how I had been previously when it came to parent conferences. So I really think the sooner the better. Also, I will say now as a parent of a kindergartener, and I know this is just kindergarten, and I’m talking to secondary science teachers, but like, this school that he goes to, it’s a public elementary school, but they require you do all the teachers to initiate parent conferences, within the first quarter. And I loved it, like I love the opportunity to go in and talk to her face to face. And I think what I love the most about it, because my son has a new teacher, and I can tell she’s really shy, and not very communicative to the group as a whole, like she doesn’t really send like, newsletters or emails or anything like that. It was nice to see that she knew my son. Like, even just getting that FaceTime with her and her telling me things about my son that I know to be true as his mom, I was like, Oh, you really know him and care about him and see him. And that’s what parents really want y’all, they want to know that their kids are seen. And I think if you can start doing these parent conferences proactively, you know, after the first month, you know, maybe we’ll make it your goal, again, by the end of the first quarter. But give yourself a couple of weeks to get to know the students, I think it makes a really big difference. And it really softens parents towards you. The other thing I will say is if you’re like avoiding a parent conference, which again, that was like my MO The first few years, the longer something goes on without addressing it face to face, the longer the time that the parent or parents or guardians or whoever, they have to build up this like false persona of who you are. Like, you know, you’re emailing them every time something happens, or you know, you’re doing a phone call or whatever, and they still haven’t seen you face to face and like talks with you face to face. They are creating an image in their heads of who you are. And most likely, it’s not accurate, especially if you’re doing all your communication over email. Oh, and on top of that, you know, their kids are coming home and probably reinforcing it, you know, they’re putting the blame on you rather than taking initiative themselves and owning where they have messed up. So it’s just not helping the situation. But if you can nip things in the bud early, I just think that’s a really good thing. Even if you have this negative connotation around parent conferences, like I think so many of us do. So I say all that because I think this isn’t a podcast about parent teacher relationships. I have existing episodes about that, that I’ll link in the show notes. But I do want to take the time to address that. Because I think her point about that and how those have felt really negative, it’s just something so many of us have experienced. Now, coming off of that another thing she mentioned is the parent kind of giving her a dressing down and roasting her in front of one of her admin. And first I just want to address my sympathies to her. And then also to any of you who have experienced that this has 100% happened to me before it can be slightly traumatizing to Zoll share just so you may laugh at, you know my misery. I had a parent call me the Antichrist in front of my headmaster. And then at a different school, I had a parent literally run through the front door security barriers, they like, push past some students who had been clicked through, because they knew they weren’t going to be allowed in, they push past they ran up three flights of stairs to get to me, and I had an admin literally chasing this parent down. Okay, so I just want you to know, I’ve had my fair share of crazy parent things happen in front of admin. And I think the key here moving forward, is really seeing how did the admin defend you. In those instances, what were their actions? What’s actually funny about that story, which was really traumatizing of that parent coming after me physically, was the admin that pursued this parent was my least favorite admin or school, I just felt like he, I mean, he literally didn’t know my name. And he just was, I just didn’t have a lot of positive feelings for him. But the way that he truly defended me that day, it totally changed my heart towards him and gave me so much more respect for him. And I just think having good admin makes all of the difference, your admin should take your side and defend you, you, if you can’t trust your admin to be on your team, I genuinely think this is a serious enough issue that you need to look at different schools, it’s going to cause so many problems down the line, if you can’t trust them to be a united front with you, in front of parents, you know, what it makes me think of, it makes me think of times where, you know, my husband, and I like maybe he’s disciplining one of our kids. And I’m there too. And maybe I don’t like how he’s doing it. But in front of our kids, we’re going to be united front, and I’m going to stand by him so that they know that mommy and daddy are on the same team. And then after you know, when we’re in private, I may say, hey, Thomas, like, I didn’t love how you said XYZ, or maybe I thought you were a little too harsh, or I think you could have handled it differently. And we can kind of strategize and gameplan. And there can be critique later. And same with him. I want the critique later with him in private, I don’t want him saying in front of my kids, you should handle that differently. And your admin, if they are good will do the same thing. They will be with you till the end in front of those parents and then after, if you deserve some sort of criticism, then they will share that in private. Okay, so to help you also just kind of further think through this episode 70 and 71 of this podcast, are a conversation I had with my own high school chemistry teacher, he’s been teaching full time for over 20 years, we literally talked for three hours, I split it over two episodes, but he shares so much good wisdom about dealing with difficult parents and admin. And I just think if you haven’t listened, it would really, really encourage you. If those are hard places for you, you know, in your current job, and your current school, whatever it may be. So all that to say, I do have some hard news to say I want to start off by a little bit of encouragement. But you kind of have some hard news now to share with this first year teacher after reading her email. But also with all of you listening, you know, this kind of crazy that she is experienced, it will happen her entire career, and it will happen your entire career. And the mistakes that happen with the athlete getting spilled and haven’t used the safety shower, these things will happen again. Okay. And so instead of figuring out how can I avoid these things, we need to figure out how can I learn to bounce back and recover from them, which is what she was asking me to do. You know, she wasn’t trying to be perfect. She was like, How do I bounce back because I’m struggling, you know, with confidence and all that. So here’s my best advice for how to do that. First is as best you can. Try not to take it personally. Okay, I genuinely think this is a habit. And it takes time and conditioning in order to strengthen this habit of being able to take negativity in any sort of context at work and not absorb it and take it so personally, this did get easier for me over time, but this is something I still really struggle with. So I’m very actual work in progress here too. I think it’s hard when you’re getting attacked by a parent or you know, an admin or having conflict with the student, I think it’s hard to feel like this is about you as a human being. But really, it’s only about you as a teacher, because that’s what we’re talking about here is you as a teacher, and really, mostly, oftentimes, when you have any sort of these conflicts or confrontation, it’s really more about them than it is about you. But to be the devil’s advocate here, let’s make this more about you. And I want to remind you what I just said, like they are coming at you as a teacher, not as a whole human being and being a teacher is not who you are, it is what you do. Okay, let me say that again, and a little bit louder for the people in the back. Being a teacher is not who you are, it is what you do. It is not your entire identity. It is not your entire self and being and this is a hard thing to relearn, because we have been trained to think we are what we do. I mean, think about anytime you meet someone new or you introduce yourself, you may say like, Hey, my name is Rebecca, what’s your name? What do you do for a living? Like, that’s what we ask. Okay, so it makes sense that we’re conditioned to feel like what we do is who we are, but it isn’t. And we have to separate those things. That’s like the first step in starting to move to having work life balance, and being able to really treat this as a job and not as your life. Okay. And the more that you can believe that, the more you can learn to take conflict and failures less personally, and really grow from them. Okay, so that’s the first thing, what you do is just try not to take it as personally. And then from there, I kind of have like, a three step process for anytime I have a conflict with someone or I make a mistake, and I need to address it, or it’s the mistake has been brought to my intention, you know, and I’m being made aware of my own mistakes, any sort of confrontation, I try to use it as a learning opportunity. And here is how I respond. Okay, first, well, first, if I’m honest, I usually feel angry, ashamed, frustrated, I want to cast blame, like, I have a lot of feelings. So first, I feel a lot of feelings. But then after that initial, like emotion dump explosion, I try to humble myself, and really look and see where was I wrong? And admit that? Okay, so maybe what they’re saying is like, 98% crazy, the parent that called me the Antichrist 98% of the email that he wrote, that was five pages long that he CC my headmaster, and my principal, and my vice principal on 90% of what he wrote was crazy. But 2% of it was based, in fact. And so I look and I see that, and I acknowledge where I was wrong, or where I could have done better or maybe been a bit more proactive. And I admit it. And I will apologize if needed. I think starting off that way is the goal. People respond to humility, way better than defensiveness. Okay, so like when you go into those parent conferences that a parent initiated with you, and they’re ready to just roast you, and maybe you sit down, and they just let you have it. Okay, and they let you have it in front of your admin, it’s terrible. I would say the first thing I would do is apologize and acknowledge where you fell short. I think it just immediately softens people. Okay, we’re not going to go into the defense mode. Then the second thing I do is, I think, is there any way that this could have been prevented? Like, could I have done more to make whatever conflict mistake whatever not happen? And if so, I will make a rule or procedure that I can use moving forward, so that it will hopefully not happen again. Okay. When my students in that fourth block class caused a fire, it was preventable. It was really chaotic back in the lab, honestly, I shouldn’t have even trusted them in the lab because of how they had been doing. And I learned like with this group of students, I can’t do labs, all 18 of them at once. And so we started splitting labs up over three days, y’all. I would work with six students at a time, the rest would be doing independent work up front. And that was the only way I felt safe doing labs. Okay, so I think that’s where I tried to get proactive there. I tried to like feel like okay, what are things I could do moving forward? And y’all you cannot prevent everything, like mistakes will happen. People will spill acid, we will have to use a safety shower, like I said, like it’s gonna happen. But again, where are they wearing their lab aprons? Did they have goggles on? Like, are there things you can make sure you’re doing preventatively and then the third thing I do is I make it right. Okay. I figured out what I need to do to make it right. You know, yes, I’ve already apologized. I’ve acknowledged have apologized. You know, I can make a rule of procedure to help prevent this in the future. so it doesn’t happen again. But what can I do right now, with this person who’s I’ve made a mistake with or with this conflict that has happened? How can I make it right? To me? It sounds like the teacher who submitted the email had already done that, like with this ad shower scenario. But I think if it’s a different circumstance, like with a car, especially with a conflict with a parent or student, I want to make it right. But I don’t the pressure is not on me really to do that. Okay, so let me explain what I mean by that. I kind of like to put this back on the person who has the problem. Okay, so I found it helpful when I’m conversing with difficult people to say, what can I do to make this right with you? Or what can I do to help you moving forward? Or what are some ways I could support you better, so we can in the year better than we started? I think especially with like a student who, you know, is constantly disrespecting you, I love to ask them like, Hey, I’m clearly like, inciting something in you. And I don’t want to do that. Like, is there something I’m doing that’s making you feel some type of way towards me, you know, and I think that is really helpful. Again, this requires a lot of humility to open yourself up to this. But I think you can learn so much like, I will, like never forget having this conversation with one of the boys in that fourth period class. And he was honest with me, and he said, when you kind of like, I just kind of have like a sassier personality, and I can kind of I tried to use humor and kind of a little bit of sass to kind of manage the cloth. It’s part of my personality. But he said to me, like, it just feels so disrespectful when you talk like that, or you like you make jokes towards me. And I was so sad to hear that because I wasn’t trying to disrespect him at all. I was genuinely trying to be funny, but it was not funny to him. And then that would enrage him. And then he would disrespect me and we got in this whole power struggle. Okay, so I think asking those questions is really good. And sometimes they may not know right away, like they may not know I don’t, I don’t know why you make me so angry Miss joiner and why talk back to you or whatever. But oftentimes they do. And I think this is really important too, especially with parents. And even with your admin, like if your admin expresses all this disappointment in you, which this teacher didn’t express that at all. She said her admin were amazing. But like, if any of you listening and admin kind of dumps on you why you are doing a terrible job or something, you can say, okay, what can I do differently moving forward? Do you have any strategies to help me practically with this, like I had an admin once tell me like, again, you kind of suck at being dealing with parents, which he was not wrong. And I said, What should I do to be better? And he said, Yeah, he gave me two things. He said, he was the one who said, You need to start doing these parent conferences. Proactively, he’s cuz he was like, so nice. He was like, you are really engaging and kind and great. In person. He’s like you, you’re terrible on email. And then that was his second critique for me was, I want you to start every email, write your email, and then I want you to go back, and I want you to add a paragraph at the beginning of nice things. And he was like, the problem is, you’re so efficient, that you’re just trying to get get to the end of it and get it done, check off the list. And apparently just read that as so aggressive. And it was such good feedback, he gave me really specific feedback. So I think putting it back on them to tell you what they need, or what they want, or what they think would help, rather than us having to guess and spin your wheels and continue to disappoint this parent or the student or this admin or whoever, I think really matters. And I think, especially if you’re dealing with someone, like a parent who just like a complainer, who just wants to complain, and they don’t want to come up with any solutions. They just want to have something to moan about, you know, and I think responding with these questions, makes the complainer also come up with the solutions that would get them to stop complaining, like, Okay, you clearly have a problem with me, I am owning that I’ve done X, Y, and Z in the future, I’m going to do X, Y, and Z to try to prevent this. What else can I do to make this right with you? Okay, so I really want you to hang on to those questions. They have served me so much in my personal life and my professional life, everything. And then from there, once you’ve done those things, you have to make the decision to move on and not dwell on it. If you’ve done them, you don’t need to dwell, you must move forward. And this takes practice. Again, this job requires serious resiliency. And that’s a muscle I genuinely think we have to exercise like a mental muscle, and you can’t develop it overnight. Like you’re not just gonna be able to brush things off overnight. It will take time, and it’s going to take trials. It’s going to take these conflicts to strengthen your resiliency, and to grow you in that, but it will get easier as you move forward over time. I promise you that. All you and I can do is the best that we can do with what we know within our current capacities in this season of life and capacities and our seasons are constantly changing. Okay, so you and I, we don’t need to be perfect teachers or perfect people, we just need to do the best with what we have right now. And the last thing I’ll say on this is, you might need to just change the rubric in your mind in which you’re self grading yourself, especially if you’re listening as in your new teacher like this one who wrote this email that started this whole podcast like, you are probably so much harder on yourself than anyone elses, especially this teacher who’s coming from such a supportive school. And I mentioned this in last week’s episode, like, we are so much harder on ourselves. And so I want you to consider grading yourself on instead of on a zero to 100 scale, where you’re like always shooting to get perfect one hundreds, okay? Or even just straight A’s. Like, I want you to do more of like maybe a standards based grading scale for yourself, like, am I exceeding expectations in my meeting them? Am I approaching them? Or am I not meeting them at all? Or better yet, grade yourself on a pass fail grade? Am I passing? Or am I failing, okay, and just simplify it that way. Because again, I think we’re just so stringent on ourselves. And we need to give ourselves grace. Okay, so I hope this episode encourages you, you know, yes, trials will come, yes, mistakes will happen. But you can grow and you can learn from them. And you can learn how to not take it personally, and how to maybe be a bit more proactive to prevent some of these things in the future. And like I said, I’ll repeat it one more time. I think the best strategy for bouncing back after these kinds of things, is a first, humble yourself and meet your heirs. And apologize if that is necessary, because you’ve wronged someone personally, to then make a rule or a procedure or something to help prevent this from happening in the future. And then lastly, to ask, How can I make it right with whoever has been wronged in this situation. I hope you found this helpful. I would love it if you’ve listened. And if you haven’t left a review yet for the podcast do so. And I want especially encourage if you’ve ever made a mistake in this job, leave a review. You can even tell us about the mistake just to help us laugh a little bit at all, you know feel a little bit more like we have stuff in common I already shared about the fire that was started in my classroom. So I’m just opening the doors here for honesty. And I will link in the show notes. Some of those episodes I mentioned that may be helpful too. And you can find those at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 114

All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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