When I look back at my first years of teaching, I’m shocked that I wasn’t fired. I don’t mean that figuratively. I mean it literally. Times were a bit different in 2003. When I was hired, I was the third teacher of the year for those students. The first teacher quit and the second was fired.

I had no business being a teacher. I was an unemployed programmer after the dot com crash trying to find a job. I was hired with an emergency credential and had never taken a single education class nor did any student teaching. I did have a math degree, loved my students, and put a lot of heart into what I did, but basically the school needed a body and I needed a job.

I had very little idea about what I was doing. I lectured to middle school students, pretty much only taught procedures, and used far more worksheets than I’d like to remember. While I was improving and working hard (I was at school from 6 am to 6 pm), it didn’t seem like I was growing fast enough.

Reflecting now, I’m embarrassed. I wish I could have done better for those students. I wish I knew then what I know now. It’s a hard feeling to deal with.

Strangely enough, I’m happy that I’m embarrassed. The reality is that if I’m embarrassed about how I used to teach, it probably means that I’ve improved. If I was still teaching the same way as I had been back then, then I likely wouldn’t have the perspective to realize that my methods were not ideal. Weird, right?

This isn’t just for the first years of your career either. I am embarrassed by things I’ve done throughout my years in education. Sometimes it was as a teacher of students and sometimes as a coach of teachers. But again, these are good things because they have to mean that I have grown so much that I can look back with the perspective of someone who has improved.

So, if you look back at how you used to teach and feel embarrassed, congratulations. It means you made progress.

Of course, this also leads to some other thoughts:

  • If you look back at how you were teaching a few years ago and are NOT embarrassed, is it possible that you haven’t improved all that much?
  • If you’re embarrassed by something you did even more recently, that’s wonderful because you’re growing even more quickly.
  • I should hope to look back at what I am doing right now (including writing this blog post) and feel embarrassed because I hope to have improved in five years.

So while much of this post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I think it is important for educators to reframe something that might appear negative and turn it into a positive.


  1. I guess i wouldn’t pick the word embarrassed, even though 2018 me would make significantly different educational choices than 1999 me. Instructionally, i have no problem giving my former self grace.
    I am embarrassed for my current self. I am embarrassed that although i know better, i still can quickly fall back to telling instead of asking. I am embarrassed that orchestrating/ordering student work for a discussion, often from students i don’t know, is still really hard for me on the fly. My “techniques i know” are many, but my chances to practice are few. I truly want to be transparent and open to growing together, and i get that messing up together is a teachable moment, so most of the time a squash that voice. Because ultimately, “embarress” implies “its all about me” in some jr high kind of way. Giving grace and respecting the process of growth is where i choose to focus now.
    Thanks for the post that gave me a chance to reflect and think through all this. As i begin to push #observeme at sites this spring, this is definately stuff i need to chew on.

    • I totally understand what you mean about “embarrassed.” I wanted a word that was a bit edgy to make people a little uncomfortable and make a point. Mainly I just want people to reflect back on previous experiences and realize that it’s ok if it wasn’t as ideal as you had hoped.

    • I agree, embarrass is difficult for me to identify with. I prefer to focus “motivated to improve.”

      Robert also points out the disadvantage he had by not having “taken a single education class nor did any student teaching. ” Those experiences make quite a difference and help significantly in those first years of teaching. He had a lot to make up “on the fly.”

  2. Embarrassed in the same way that I chuckle at home movies of myself walking as a little kid. Lots of falling and failures, but that little dude who was me kept getting up again and trying and a few steps led to a few more, and the falls became less frequent. I’d be more embarrassed if I still walked that way. I guess it depends on the focus of reflection. Do we look back and focus on all the things we did wrong, or the few things we got right? Thanks for the thoughts.

  3. I can’t believe the effort and time it has taken to re-work my mathematics mindset. Years, years… Vowed not to retire until I got it, now I don’t want to retire, don’t want to stop learning and working with learners to build bridges to success.

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