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That first year of teaching when a child asked a questions I did not have the answer for I stalled. I hemmed, I hummed, I did a little dance and then either hoped they would forget their question, that another child would know the answer or that class would be over so that I could quickly figure out what the answer was.
I didn’t think I could say, “I don’t know…”
Go to my second year of teaching and another question from another child, again; stalling, nervous glances, some vague reply hoping to satiate curious minds, but otherwise, same approach. Glance at bell, dismiss the question, hope for a lifeline, wish that my principal or a parent wouldn’t see me in this position. Anything but to admit my own inadequacy of not being the master teacher and simply not knowing something.
I never thought to say, “I don’t know…”
Third year of teaching and I realized I wasn’t the only expert in the room. One child knew more about wars at 10 years old than I would ever be able to cram into my head. Another was an expert on poetry. The questions kept coming but my approach to them changed; I stopped being afraid of them and realized that not knowing something was powerful. Not knowing something and admitting it was a sign of strength, a learning opportunity to model how I would find out. Now instead of nervous glances at the door, hoping no one would ever discover that I didn’t have all of the answers, I asked the students for help. How would we find out, why was this a great question, did anyone else know?
This year, I am fully aware that I am not the only expert, I embrace it daily. That I am not supposed to know everything. That I am not supposed to pretend I do. Instead, I am there to show what happens when we don’t know. To show that even though I did my preparations for class I couldn’t put everything into my head but I have ways to help me through any question. Now my students know to try to find the answer first using a multitude of sources instead of just asking me. Now I ask my students questions that make them say, “I don’t know…”
I now know the power of “I don’t know…”