What do we mean when we say, “Be ready to get things wrong”?

In short, what we’re talking about is the need for ECTs to be mentally and emotionally ready for the inevitability of making a mistake or two. If you go into your ECT years determined to do everything perfectly and encounter no errors or setbacks, then you are only setting yourself up for major disappointment further down the line. So, what we mean when we say “be ready” is that you need to get yourself into a positive and constructive mindset in which you know these mistakes are going to come along sooner or later, and be ready then to think creatively and actively to solve those issues and learn from them.

Shouldn’t I always try to avoid mistakes?

You should, of course, try your best not to make mistakes along the way. We are by no means encouraging teachers to be slapdash or cavalier in their attitudes and practices. The point is to be ready for when the inevitable mistakes happen. You have so much to do in your first year, so much to remember, to take responsibility for and to plan for. Even if you are some kind of superhuman, mistakes will happen. To err is human, to reflect and grow from it divine.

What can I do to mentally prepare myself?

It’s all very well and good for us to keep saying “be ready”, but it’s not so helpful without a few practical ideas on steps to take to prepare.

1. Try to anticipate some of the possible errors

Even though you don’t know all the exact procedures and rules of your new school yet, you can still anticipate some of the common problems you will encounter. For example, one of the most common things ECTs get wrong is the timings in their lesson planning. You may confidently write down that you’ll do a warm-up activity for the first five minutes of your class. Assuming every child is on time to the classroom, and assuming you start the planned content at exactly the top of the hour, then you may have a chance of making that, but odds are it’ll go out of shape. That has a knock-on effect with the rest of your class time, of course.

Besides timing, other things you could anticipate are being too ambitious in planned class activities (some just don’t work) or dealing with a student’s bad behaviour in the classroom. Make notes for yourself and reflect on how you might deal with this kind of error. This kind of reflection might even help stop you from making them in the first place.

2. Reflect on how a bad reaction to a mistake will make things worse

As you try to anticipate mistakes and reflect on how you might deal with them, focus too on how getting fazed and disoriented by mistakes will negatively impact your work and happiness at your new school. Think about other times in the past where mistakes have hindered you and slowed your productivity, and focus on how you don’t want that to happen this time around.

3. Write down in advance what you will learn from every possible mistake

As your list lengthens and your reflections deepen, you should think to yourself just what exactly you will learn from each mistake. To take the example of lesson plan timings, you’ll know to simply take note of how long each kind of activity takes with each group and then modify future plans accordingly. For more complex issues, you could think about what questions you would ask your mentor after the mistakes happen.

4. Finally, remember that what’s done is done

The last thing to focus your mind on is that when mistakes are made, they can only be rectified and improved upon in the future. They cannot be erased or directly undone. The only axiom of “what’s done is done” rings very true the world over. If you keep telling yourself that dwelling on mistakes won’t ever remove them, then you’ll be readier to embrace them as learning opportunities.

In conclusion:

Being an ECT is never easy. The fact is that most of your errors will stem from your own nervousness, as well as from your sheer determination to get everything right. Just as the pianist who thinks too closely about which keys to hit next will slip up, you too can slip up when you are heavily engaged in trying not to. As your ECT years are drawing close, constantly think to yourself that you are human, you will err, and you are ready for that inevitability. Stick with this attitude, and you will find it easier to enjoy this formative year of your new career.