After ten years of teaching, there are many students whose memories haunt me. Most often it’s because of what I wish I had done differently. Sometimes I think about the ones with whom I was never able to connect or who never bought into what we were doing in class. Often these were those “reluctant learners” that come to our classes so accustomed to failure that they have lost any interest in learning.

I think about the “ones that got away” when I consider the changing face of public education and the new challenges that stand in front of us. I think about them when I am frustrated by the hypocrisy of high-level administrators entreating teachers to be innovative, yet not to stray from the prescribed pacing guide. I think about these “lost” students when I struggle with the language being used to describe this profession that I love and these colleagues whom I trust.

I am reminded of a recent post by Garr Reynolds, author of the fantastic Presentation Zen, on his PZ blog. With his spiritual, yet practical, way, Garr describes the power of failure. He quotes from Buddha in saying that

“There are only two mistakes that one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way and not starting.”

It’s these powerful words that resonate with me and help me get over the memory of past failure. The sentiment is a difficult one to grasp when you are faced with the real prospect of failure. By acknowledging as educators the risk of failure and its ability to teach us about ourselves, we model this critical awareness for our students. It takes great courage to be willing to fail, and we need to find a way to instill this courage in all of our students.

In coming up for air on the other side of this depressing issue, I decided to make a positive contribution to the conversation. And so, here is a slide that I hope will add some depth to your slide deck:

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2 thoughts on “The Courage to Fail

  1. Interesting double entendre there Mr.C. Came here expecting you to talk about students that you literally failed, as in gave an “F” to and what could have been done to help them. Instead you approach failure from a more universal stand point. If it is any consolation, you touched the life of this soon to be college graduate and certainly didn’t fail him, and instilled in me the knowledge that failure is an acceptable outcome if properly responded to.

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  2. Having had the pleasure of working with you and observing how you teach your class I appreciate your thoughts, but I feel you are one of those rare teachers that goes beyond to do his best to reach all and to make learning fun. I know when Jackson and I were there it was fun learning all the things we did. I will never forget the electricity ball and how the sparks flew. YOU are a very gifted teacher and those who know are you blessed.

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