One day we were reading a novel aloud as a class and I paused for a quick discussion, when one of my kids piped up and asked what one of the words in the previous sentence meant. Now, admittedly I wasn’t 100% prepared, because if I were, I would have read ahead to see if there were any words that I myself didn’t know. But I didn’t. Hmm…I felt my ego drop its tail between its legs, and instantaneously thought about either by-passing his question, or relying on good ole context clues to fabricate a decent answer. Once I realized that these two options were ridiculous, I simply responded, “I’m not sure, Eric. How about you grab the dictionary and look it up for us?”
When your students ask you a question to which you do not know the exact answer, don’t make it up. You’re not expected to know everything. “Ms. Schweibert, what was the cause of WWI?” “Actually, I’m not really sure, history was never my strong suit. How about you ask Mr. Seymour? I’m sure he can give you a much better answer than I can.”
The “I’m-the-teacher-so-I-must-know-everything complex” will do nothing but increase your anxiety and decrease the credibility you have with your students. Also, by admitting that you are not a direct descendant from an all-knowing being, you’re showing the students that it’s okay not to know everything. By saying, “I’m not sure, let’s figure it out,” you’re not shoving their question aside or stomping over a teachable moment just to salvage your pride. Rather, you’re showing your students that if they don’t know something, they should seize that opportunity to figure it out for themselves.
W. Somerset Maugham, an English playwright, novelist, and short story writer, once said, “It wasn’t until late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say ‘I don’t know’.” Don’t wait; use his lesson now.