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Wednesday 13 April 2011

All Teachers Fail Every Day

'Ever tried? Ever failed? No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.'
Samual Beckett

All Teachers fail every day. It is, however, our duty to try and fail a little better. Before you press the delete button very angrily after leaving a stinging comment, hear me out.
If you think about it, having thirty kids in front of you every day - thirty brains, thirty learning styles - is a complex business; it would be impossible not to fail at some point during a fifty minute lesson, never mind a whole day.
Don’t get me wrong. I very rarely go home thinking that I’ve been a failure today. I try and accentuate the positive; but I need to be constantly aware of every child who I think I’ve failed to reach. And there is always at least one. The young boy who finds writing a real challenge and crumbles under the pressure; the girl who has just had a terrible Science lesson where she was confused and too frightened to ask for help; the promising footballer but reluctant student who has just finished his favourite lesson of the day – P.E. They all bring baggage to the classroom, baggage which I not only may not know about, but will find impossible to overcome in a short session even if I did. So I fail. Sometimes. And that is okay. As long as I am aware that it is happening.
Some of the greatest educational writing I have read recently has discussed the premise that our children should be allowed and indeed encouraged to fail. Of course, that is right and proper. Resilience is one of the key factors in promoting lifelong learning and an ability to cope with failure is part of that; but what about us?
Are teachers allowed to fail, never mind encouraged to do so? Don’t be ridiculous. An admission of failure in school would certainly take you down roads you don’t want to follow. But from a personal point of view we are being hypocritical if we do not, as professionals but more importantly as educators and learners, reflect on our failures. We are failing our students if we do not show them that failing can be good; if we do not talk about our own failures and how we deal with them – modelling failure, if you like -  we are missing wonderful learning opportunities.
Exam season is almost upon us. Study plans and last minute preparation is nigh. I’ve been in school this week –yes, during the holidays – with a group of very keen S5 pupils preparing for Higher English. I hope they all pass. They have worked hard. They deserve it. But, with the best will in the world, I cannot guarantee that they will. Some may come out with absolutely nothing from the exam. And after a year of very hard work and a lot of tears, is that fair? Their failure will ruin their summers. Perhaps cause feelings of humiliation in the presence of family and friends. And despite the great year we’ve had they won’t remember anything more than a fail in English.
As teachers we can start to change that, I think. Lock away your past papers. Work harder to provide real learning experiences. Stop viewing exam practice as a lesson. Challenge every day. Never ever say ‘we have covered all the course work, now let’s revise.’ No longer build up the exam as the be all and the end all, it is just another challenge.  And be prepared to fail. You will anyway at some point. Get over it.

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