Admitting ignorance

I was back teaching this morning; I get first day nerves every time I get a new class. This is partly because I like to be prepared for anything and everything and when new students come in, I usually know almost nothing of use about them.

Today’s big surprise: they are Belgian, not French as I had been led to expect. They were all between 15 and 18 and very quiet and a bit shy. Well, that suits me for first morning, because I then don’t have to worry at all about discipline.

At the end of the lesson, I gave them a short quiz about England and the English and for the last 15 minutes, I said they could return the favour and ask me a question each about my background knowledge of their nation. My score? 3/10. They roared with laughter when I got the name of their king wrong, giggled when I didn’t know exactly how many languages were spoken in Belgium and were delighted I didn’t know the name of their national anthem. In short, I knew almost nothing about where they came from. The only things I knew about them was the name of a famous Belgian beer, what foodstuffs Belgium is famous for and the city where the royal family makes its home. I did actually know the family name of their royal family but only after it was said (it’s the same family OUR prince Albert came from). All the rest I simply guessed at.

It’s actually pretty good for a teacher to admit they don’t know something; it sets you on a better footing with students. But as a human being, it’s vital to realise that what I know is tiny compared with what I don’t know. It doens’t make me any less for saying “I don’t know” to a question. I have colleagues and friends who would rather make up an answer than admit they don’t know, so they don’t appear stupid. Me, I simply don’t care.

I know a lot more about Belgium now than I did yesterday but I don’t make an assumption that I know everything. That, like many subjects, would be the work of a lifetime. I know a fair bit about a lot of things but since my Bigger Fish incident, I’ve been a lot more cautious about flaunting that knowledge.

Now where’s that Stella Artois? (yes, that’s Belgian!)