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It's O.K., You're not Stupid...

From a Quora Question: What is something a teacher did that impressed you?

My Calculus professor in college did this:

He was working on a HUGE problem that took up the entire white board. The students were doing their best to follow the problem in their notes and in their minds. Suddenly he stopped, turned to look at us, turned red with embarrassment and realized that he got confused and lost in the problem. A student in the front row gently guided him to finish.

Instead of brushing this off he used this as an amazing teachable moment.

Here is what he did:

  1. He asked us if we thought he was stupid. We collectively said “no.”

  2. He then said that he was not a “melon head” and neither were we.

  3. The lesson: He explained about the fight or flight syndrome and said that once he got momentarily confused, instead of going back to the place in the problem where he understood, he got nervous because he was in front of us, got into the fight or flight syndrome, produced adrenaline and got so stressed that he could no longer think. He then drew a picture on the board of a human brain, showed the reptilian part of our brain and the frontal lobes and explained that when we get too stressed we go to our reptilian brain and we need to return to our frontal lobe thinking. He gave us concrete strategies for exactly how to do this. (Breathe slowly, go back to a place where we last understood and start over). This lesson was SO impactful to me that I began to study the brain more and more and then I taught this to all of my students.

Final Thought: Even though my professor was teaching Calculus, his off-topic lesson was one of the best I ever had. He turned an embarrassing moment into an incredibly helpful life lesson.

This lesson was so important to me that I included the story as one of the chapters in my teacher support book, “Wait, Don’t Quit.”

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