How personal failure has helped me understand my students

Failure is something we deal with every day, especially in teaching. If our students fail, we’ve failed.  In the current educational climate that never been truer.

But, it can be easy to forget how it feels on the other end of the learning front-line. Putting everything into each assignment, only to be told you’ve (sometimes) got it wrong.

Failing is a learning. but it’s easy to forget what seeing that word on something you worked hard for feels like.

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I’m currently studying for my Masters in Education, it has been difficult. I love reading and writing, but reading academic texts and writing in that style has been a challenge which I’ve not had to face in years.

Either way, I was confident – how hard can it be? I thought.

Well, quite hard – it turns out – because I failed one of my assignments.

At first, I felt like there must have been some mistake. “This can’t be mine… I knew I did better than this…”

Then I went through the marking sheet to check the marker hadn’t made a mistake.

After which I considered leaving the course altogether because: “I’ve never been very good at this – I just don’t get academic writing.”

In fact, it took me (I’m pretty ashamed to say) about 24 hours to stop feeling wronged by the failure and start seeing it as an opportunity to learn.

This is what our students deal with every day, sometimes multiple times a day. We sling grades at them and a green pen and tell them to improve – it’s no wonder sometimes they find that frustrating.

It made me ask:

  • How can I reduce that feeling of failure in my classroom?
  • How can I cultivate an attitude of an opportunity to learn, rather than a fear of failure?
  • Is the frustration of failing just a natural part of caring and being ambitious, or does it stop us taking risks?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But, it has given me a new understanding of those students who are frustrated by a grade. A new appreciation that maybe they just need some time to reflect before seeing the grade I’m giving them as a learning opportunity.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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