Recently I had to sit here in MN and read about all the great things that were happening @NCTM AC. Other than the jealousy that always hits me thinking about all the great conversations about math and teaching that happens, I also thought about a few things that I read/saw. One thing really hit me, and that was talking about failure.
Failure, how we as a society have come to fear, hate and ridicule that word and concept. I think over my short stint teaching (13 years) and about how my students deal with failure. Even when I was a student, I can’t remember talking about that word- ever. The only thing close was getting an F in class- which meant you either were getting kicked out of class every day or just weren’t there. It didn’t mean you were dumb or didn’t know what was being taught. F’s were (and I believe still are) a measure of your behavior in class versus your academic ability. But that’s the thing, as time has gone on that concept of failing something has grew into a big, bad monster from your bedtime stories.
My students now will not try something for fear of failing. They will not attempt something to find out they did it wrong. They feel that failing at something will also cause them to lose their worth to their peers. It is something that isn’t a fear of only ability, but social status. I work hard every year to overcome this stigma, and I find myself working harder on it as the years progress. It is quite a strange phenomena considering these students are the same who will play a video game for hours being defeated by the same boss or challenge.
On to the real thing that got me thinking of failure, Teachers. My grandma used to tell me “what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.” It meant whatever I expected for myself I also had to expect of others, and vice versa. While we work hard every day to show students that failure is good and productive, we can’t accept those same circumstances as it applies to teaching. The fear of failure for teachers has come from many sources, and Standardized State Testing is the biggest pusher of that fear. There is immense pressure for teachers meet the benchmarks set by these tests: from State and National agencies, Superintendents, School Boards, Principals, and Parents. Every year the first thing teachers are shown is a PowerPoint of state testing- which for many points out their failures of the previous year. This then creates extra stress for those teachers- adding an additional workload for the teacher that can result in extra distractors instead of supportive practices. Teachers constantly are faced with negative feedback about their performance; from TV, newspapers, magazines and social media. As many of us know, negative feedback does not typically produce positive results.
The result of this is that teachers tend to stay with traditional or “safe” practices in their classroom. There have been many times that I have felt almost bullied into compliance- preventing me from wanting to seek better methods to instruction. Enter the #MTBOS.
I really wish I had taken the plunge into the #MTBoS earlier. It could have saved me a lot of headaches and self-doubt earlier in my career. Being part of it has challenged me to try different things in class, read and find new resources, research issues within my field, and to discuss successes and failures in class. It provides a professional support group that I couldn’t have access to within my rural district. It has shown me that the biggest failure is to not challenge yourself or your students, to not always be striving for positive change in your classroom. Failure is part of learning, it is through failure that we can learn and reflect. I no longer fear failing in front of administration during a observation. I have found as long as I keep the class focused on the objective, think about what happened- things I could have changed, how I would teach the lesson next time (or what I would replace it with), my Admin has not rated me low. They have actually given me positive feedback about lesson preparation, design and reflection on my teaching and growth.
So, like my grandma said: “What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.” Don’t expect students to fail and overcome if you don’t expect the same of yourself. As professionals, we need to continually challenge ourselves to improve our teaching for our students- no matter how great of an educator we already are (and I have a ways to go on this). I challenge you to find one new thing to implement into your classroom next month. Take time to properly introduce it to your students, model expectations and implement into your classroom. Reflect on things that work or need to be adjusted. Keep specific student needs in mind. At the end of the month let me know how it went and if it was a good experience.