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June 10, 2017


I Was a Bad Teacher Today

by Peter Skillen

I Was a Bad Teacher Today

A younger educator—well-known and enthusiastic—wrote a post with some points in it that just really rubbed me the wrong way. This educator was absolutely well-intentioned but there were errors in the definitions and in the representation of educational pedagogies of previous recent decades.

What did I do?

I reacted. I wrote a relatively polite, yet pointed, reply. I corrected the errors in his thinking and gave some references and history. I expressed that I was offended.

He wrote me personally and expressed his sadness at offending me and told me how much he respected my opinions and told me he was very sorry and that he meant no offence.

He took his post down.


It gave me pause to reflect on my behaviour.

I was angry. I was upset. I was annoyed by his incorrect claims regarding all the efforts and passion many of us poured into the education sphere in those previous decades that he was inadvertently criticizing. But, he did it out of a lack of information—it was not ill-intentioned.

He made the post from his reference point. My reference point is different. I am older. I have a different lived experience. He is speaking from his lived experience.

As an educator, I should have handled things differently. As just my old regular self, I reacted and hurt this young, enthusiastic educator. My ego and my ‘self’ got in the way of a more measured and appropriate response.

A good teacher wouldn’t make another learner feel foolish. I did that today.

I was a bad teacher.

And I apologize for that. And, I will learn from that.

I think of my dear, recently departed mentor—Jim Milligan—as I write this.

He would understand me and forgive me my error.

I hope this young educator will as well.

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jun 10 2017

    Peter, thanks so much for your honesty. We all have those moments, but few of us are brave enough to put them out there publicly. As one of my mentors, I know you would be patient and forgiving with me. Please offer yourself the same kindness. And I’m sure the young teacher will appreciate your post.

    • Jun 10 2017

      Awwww…thanks Lisa. 🙂 I’m tough on myself. More than is healthy, I know. But, I really have difficulty when I hurt others. But, I’ll take your words to heart.
      Thank you.

  2. Jun 10 2017

    Ahhh…I thought the younger and enthusiastic person you were referring to was me for a second, but then you said ‘he’. LOL The silver lining for him, of course is that people (and not just people – but people like you!) are reading his stuff – but the bad news is that people may read your stuff online and so you have to make sure it’s accurate or qualify things as ‘your own bigly huge truth’, not the truth that is necessarily widely accepted. Okay – I may have been watching a little too much CNN this weekend.

    But that is the beauty of social media – it’s a conversation – and I’m glad you’ll still be engaging in it with this younger teacher. Reminds me of Clay Shirky’s book from ages ago…Here Comes Everybody and with that…well you have to read the book to find out! 😉

    • Jun 10 2017

      Hmmmm…methinks I’ve read that. LOL Oh! You mean ‘you’ as in ‘one’!

  3. Jun 10 2017

    There has to be right and wrong in education. There also has to be room for criticism, like in every other field.

    • Jun 11 2017

      Agreed. It was a ‘form’ not ‘content’ issue! I simply could have approached it more appropriately! 😉

  4. Jun 10 2017

    I am left wondering where coaching fits within all of this? My concern is if Teacher A removes a post for fear of recriminations? We need criticism, but if it does develop the conversation, what is the point? Then again, I might just be too young 🤷🏼‍♂️

    • Jun 11 2017

      Yes, indeed, Aaron—you youngster! 😉

      An ‘appreciative inquiry’ or ‘evocative coaching’ approach would have served us better! However, we did have a resulting phone conversation—so that was a good thing!

  5. Jun 10 2017

    Thanks for this Peter. I think we also need to reflect on the purpose of social media and a PLN for educators. I’m not as experienced (old) as you (hahah), but I have also questioned people’s thinking in the comments of a blog and unintentionally upset them by doing so. However, I feel that this is the purpose of blogging and having a PLN. To question. To discuss. If we all just agree then are any of us really learning? We need to become a bit more comfortable with discomfort. I need folks like you who will be critical of my work. If I only have a cheering squad as my PLN, then I will simply hear how wonderful I am. While that may help my ego – it does nothing to push my thinking and help me grow. I agree with your thinking around mentorship though. How can you question someone but leave them feeling supported and confident to continue to share and grow? Thanks for sharing this!!!

    • Jun 11 2017

      Geeeee…everybody is emphasizing the fact that they are ‘young’ or ‘not as old’! LOL

      I agree with you about being more comfortable with discomfort. And, I love to be challenged—so that I have to dig more deeply into my own thinking about the issues. Having said that, the ‘nature’ of that challenge often determines my response as you suggested.

      It’s not like I’m not ‘trained’ in ‘appreciative inquiry’ and ‘evocative coaching’ and ‘taking the pause’ and all the ‘good stuff’. I just sorta let loose. But, then again…those who know me really well accept that in me…and I thank you for that! 🙂

      thx you!

    • @mmereddick
      Jun 12 2017

      Jaccalder’s a smart cookie! As educators, we need others to be critical of our work and collaborate with us to improve it. Maybe your approach was not the brightest example of evocative coaching, but you caught yourself and made a public apology. Keep on truckin’!

  6. Jun 11 2017

    Hi Peter, your post makes me curious to read the other teacher’s post – couldn’t have been all that bad – sorry he took it down, it would be interesting to read. Being another ‘experienced’ educator, I think it is great to read posts from young educators. Good for him for writing and I am sure he learned lots because of his post.

    • Jun 11 2017

      Thanks Paul,

      He has quite the big voice in Ontario these days so it was really important for me to speak with him about the post. He plans to rewrite it! 🙂 I am glad for this because his influence is important for our students and teachers.

      • Jun 12 2017

        Great – I would love to know when the rewrite comes out

  7. Mike dodds
    Jun 11 2017

    Jim was always so open and honest with himself and others so I believe you are following in his path Peter. Stay gold! Big hug! Mike

  8. @mmereddick
    Jun 12 2017

    Educators, no matter how experienced they may be, are first and foremost human. We all make mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes hurt others, and we often feel shame or regret for having made those mistakes. You’re wise enough and humble enough to tell the world you made a mistake, moreover you are making amends and taking steps to not make the same mistake. All good things and signs that you continue to learn and grow as an educator and a fellow human being. If this young educator doesn’t see it in their heart to forgive you now, I’m sure in time they will. Maybe you can forgive yourself, too, Peter. *hugs*

    • Jun 13 2017

      Merci! All is good. Thank you for those kind words, Amanda. 🙂

  9. Jun 16 2017

    Wow Peter! Your post makes me think of something that Susan Hopkins talks about: “soft eyes.” We need to be forgiving of ourselves as well as of others. We all make mistakes, regardless of our best of intentions. The fact that you wrote this post, and apologized in such a heartfelt way, I think speaks to your amazing integrity as an educator and a person. Just another reason that you are truly one of my favourite people!


    • Jun 16 2017

      “Soft eyes”! I LOVE IT!! I can be very hard on myself—especially when I felt I have been harsh to someone else. Mind you—I have no regrets about speaking up! It was necessary. 🙂

      I thank you so much for your kind words, Aviva! Miss you!



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