Transforming Misconception: A Misunderstanding as Realization


By Adebisi Babayemi

This is one of the stories shared at the Uplifting Stories from Our Classrooms event in March of 2019.

On this particular day, Jack, my first grade ESOL student, informed me that he was going to El Salvador. I had asked him about his family’s plans for the weekend and was stunned at his response when I further asked, “When are you coming back?”

He responded, “Monday.”

In order to clarify the misconception I was developing, I replied with a surprise.

“You are going to El Salvador on Friday and returning on Monday!”

He nodded and said, “Yes! “

My next comment then was, “Maybe your family is planning this trip for the holidays because a three-day holiday to El Salvador is too short.”

At this point, he just smiled and did not utter another word. He was back at school the second week after our conversation, and I decided that I would not bring up the subject again because my conclusion was that the family would probably travel during a long holiday, and my student was just very excited in anticipation of the trip.

During the third week after the original news was shared, Jack stated again that he and his family were traveling. This time around, I smiled and said nothing. As the fourth week arrived, I went by the first-grade classrooms to pick up all of my students on a Monday, and I learned that this particular student was absent. The classroom teacher informed me that he had gone to El Salvador and would return in two weeks.

He was right all along. I relayed this message to his teacher, saying that when he told me he was going to El Salvador, I took the information with a pinch of salt because he shared that they were leaving on a Friday and returning on Sunday. Right then, I confessed to his teacher that I had created a misconception in my mind when he told me his family was going away and I would apologize to him when he returned.

He was back two weeks later.

I said, “I need to apologize to you for not believing that you were traveling to El Salvador.”

He just gave a contagious smile, and I concluded that he was thrilled that I believed him at last.

Revisiting the incident, I learned never to doubt the abilities of my students to communicate meaningful information. Jack is sometimes inattentive in class, playful, and has some speech challenges, so I developed a misconception about him. I misunderstood him because the traveling timeline he shared did not make sense to me at that time. I could have checked with his teacher in case she had some insight on the news or contacted his parents to verify. Instead, I held on to a misconception that led to a misunderstanding.

Through this experience, I learned to refrain from jumping to conclusions too soon. I was exceedingly proud of my student because he did inform me about his family's traveling plan more than once even though the event was not taking place immediately. And, I was not too pompous to say, “I’m sorry,” when I knew I misunderstood his communication.

Mykella Palmer