Facing Failure In The Classroom

The more I read and write about education, the more it has become apparent that seemingly every article is a highlight reel. While I have shared my failures from time to time, much of my own writing has talked about when things turned out well. And, yes, we need to hear those things; if something good happens, it much is shared in order to further our profession.

All of that is good. We must continue to push best practices. We must continue to push innovative practices. We must continue to remind educators of the social-emotional needs of students, to put kids first, and to continue to break through the tradition of school in order to give kids a more meaningful education.

Those articles are necessary and need to be written. I will definitely continue to write them.

But, there is something that is equally important. It is something that could equally impact the teaching profession. Cheap Essay Writing Services


We don’t talk about failure enough. Sure, we talk about allowing kids to deal with failure and how to set up an environment where failure is valued, allowing redos, and constant revision. Again, like the highlight reel, these pieces are needed.

But, failure isn’t a topic that we speak enough about. Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs. Getting a group of students to learn a concept isn’t easy. We don’t acknowledge that difficult enough. We don’t make it acceptable to have teachers discuss their failures, seek real, meaningful advice, and then rebound from it.

The thing is, though, we all fail at some point. It’s OK as long as we continuously look to learn and improve. The good teachers seek answers, keep trying to find the magic formula in order to teach our students. The majority of teachers are the good ones. That’s why we need to have more discussion on failure. We have to make it acceptable to talk about, rather than shaming people when they take chances and it doesn’t work out.

Year 22 is about a month old for me. I was–still am–excited for this particular year. Two of my classes are senior classes, a first for my career. These two classes are different because I taught them all in 10th grade during part one of our AP Capstone programs. They chose to come back two years later for part two. Two years ago, I had an amazing experience. While every year is amazing, that particular year was special because they are special. A month in, I so appreciate their growth in all areas of their lives. They are truly amazing.

Despite my love for them, my love for my job, and my intense desire to give them all a magical year, the first month has been a failure. Yes, I am confident that I have deepened relationships with my seniors. I am confident that I have put every single one of my students’ needs first. But, my actual teaching has been a failure so far.

I know that relationships, building their confidence, and valuing each and every one of them is the most important elements of teaching. But, as a friend and colleague said to me this past Friday, “the bottom line is teaching them is what we are here for.”

This teacher is one who you would your own child to have. She cares for each kid. She strives every day to give them that magical experience we all want for our students. So, her remark wasn’t a negative. It was one that showed just how much we all care. We want them to learn and when we fail to find the formula to meet their needs, we keep struggling to find it. So many of us struggle alone because we aren’t in an environment where failure can be discussed. Whether it’s the highlight reel effect or just the old school culture that still exists, discussing failure and how to rebound from it isn’t completely accepted.

I have most definitely failed my seniors so far.

I went for training over the summer for AP Research, the second part of their AP Capstone experience. During training, I was overwhelmed. The specific nature of the course, some of the nuances in language for the course, and some of the depth required aren’t a natural fit for my skill set. But, I promised “my 89” I would be there. So, I made a plan.

That plan has been a complete failure.

Through four weeks, I am watching them wade their way through a difficult, intense process. They are learning how to conduct their own research, write a more scientific research paper. So, I tried to make the course my own. I set up deadlines and have tried to make each day creative, have them take ownership of the work, and walk them through a complicated process. And, they are making progress, despite my failure. They are making progress because they are smart, passionate, dedicated kids. But, it should be easier, more accessible for them.

There is general confusion. There are concepts that aren’t sticking or quite unclear. We are stuck at the point of picking a topic that they will work on for the next nine months. I originally had a deadline of September 26th for them to essentially lock in their topic. But, they weren’t ready. We haven’t gotten there because I haven’t taught them in a way that made sense. Something needs to change. It needs to change fast.

Almost every teacher has gone through something like this, whether a lesson, a week, or even a unit. I know that. But, I feel that the year 22 me shouldn’t be in this situation. And, truthfully, it is embarrassing to admit. I’m a person who writes about education. I am the Department Coordinator. I have a group of kids who I already know really well. I’ve already had success with them. I am closer to them than any other group I’ve had in my career. And, I want to give them a great final year. All of that should lead to success. Yet, I’m failing.

I’m admitting it because not enough of us do. My career isn’t a highlight reel. It is full of failures, climbing out of those failures, and finding success.

So, what am I going to do?

Well, I’ve already started once I got over myself, the embarrassment, and acknowledged that I needed to change quickly. I first started to re-train myself. I went back to the manuals. I also looked on the AP Research community page, a global support group of the teachers of the course. Those helped, but much of what I saw was similar to what I was doing.

I’ve been picking the brain of a colleague. He is one of those brilliant minds when it comes to teaching, literature, and planning. He also challenges my thinking, which is something all of us should have. Our conversations have helped, but I still couldn’t quite figure out what was missing for my seniors.

So, finally, this past Friday, I did what I should’ve done all along.

I asked them.

If you think it’s hard to admit that you are failing to your colleagues, try admitting that to a group of students who you’ve known for years, developed relationships, and who have even honored you for being a good teacher.

Yet, that’s where I found myself this past Friday. It was the night after our National Honor Society induction ceremony. They all surprised me by making me an honorary inductee. When I arrived to class on Friday, I was met with congratulations and even some applause. I was touched. But, I owe them more.

After thanking them, I began to speak about my failure. “I’ve been doing a terrible job so far. A lot of you are stuck because I haven’t been as clear as you’ve needed me to be.”

Some tried to say that this wasn’t the case, but I know in my heart that it is. We wouldn’t be stuck with selecting a topic and coming up with a plan. So, I asked them to, “talk about the areas they are confused. Talk about the lessons I need to teach them. What have I failed to do? Talk about why they are stuck.”

I gave them five minutes to talk to each other and then I began to get some answers. Because they’ve experienced me asking for feedback on units or how I am doing, they weren’t afraid to be real. They started to talk. I took out my phone and started taking notes. For each kid who spoke, I would ask a follow-up, truly trying to understand what they needed.

Suddenly, I knew exactly what I needed to prepare for. They were giving me feedback on what I haven’t taught well–a gap in research, requirements of the paper–or, more importantly, what I haven’t taught yet. Now, I have a map–it’s a lengthy one–to get them where they need to go. I am no longer lost. I have clear objectives, real concepts that I must teach, and so many things to clear up.

With their information, I have spent much of my time pulling together lesson ideas. I’ve already made a plan to speak with a bunch of colleagues about how they go about teaching similar concepts. I’ve been reading, too. My “To Do” list is the road map that my students and I have needed.

I had a choice with all of this. I could’ve used the excuse that it’s a brand new course. I could’ve used the excuse that I’m really busy with the other parts of my job. I could’ve used the embarrassment as an excuse to not reach out. But, none of that would’ve helped my students. None of that would have helped me improve my practices and focus my lessons.

All of those good intentions, my caring for them as people, and helping them outside of the room would’ve still happened. But, if I don’t teach them the necessary skills in a clear and meaningful way, what would I have truly accomplished? Because I admitted failure, talked with others, and sought feedback for the kids, I know it will get better from here.

As much as we need to reform longstanding educational practices, we must build a culture where teachers can freely acknowledge failure and seek advice from colleagues and, most importantly, to the students we serve. As we tell our students, failure is an opportunity to grow. We must live that as well. We all fail–even those who have been in this gig for over two decades is a department coordinator and writes about education.

Don’t let embarrassment stop you from seeking to improve. There are so many colleagues willing to help. Your students have powerful insight too. I learned all of that this week, in year 22. I’ve failed up until this point, but Friday was my first step towards fixing it quickly.