Failure is the Only Option

success-kid-meme-generator-resilience-pride-worldwide-499a77By Maureen Cummings – I know I want to be a teacher.

I don’t know exactly what grade level I want to teach. I’m unsure what type of school I see myself in, but I definitely want to teach English. I know I want to be a nice teacher, while not crossing the line of being a pushover. I plan to be assertive, but also compassionate. These are all good things to know, but the most important thing I already know is what my first poster will say.

It may seem easy to argue that a poster should be the last thing on my mind during my undergrad educational career, but I beg to differ.

“Failure is the only option,” that is what my motivational poster will say. I’m thinking I may have to make it on my own, but perhaps some teaching stores will help you understand the importance of this statement. Failure is obviously not the end all, and it will most certainly not become the be all, but failure is the only option. I want my students to be told that even before I start speaking, and I want it to be said every single day.

Take a moment to consider the greatest thing you have ever learned to do. It need not be a specific task, like learning to drive or ride a bike or simply to walk. Perhaps the greatest thing we must be taught to do or rather to be is resilient. What have you been taught that you mastered in the first try? If you are able to propose a reasonable answer to this, was it worthwhile?

Recently my mom told me that the greatest thing she ever taught me to be was resilient. It was a curious statement since the conversation stemmed from a phone call where the first five minutes consisted almost exclusively of my unrecognizable sobs as I explained to my mom all the insurmountable injustices facing my twenty-year-old life. For some reason, she still said she held pride in my and my brothers’ resilience.

Time and time again my mom believes I can be strong. She has exposed me to what resilience looks in her life, and then somewhere in the making I became what I was taught to be. I have never been taught to hide my flaws, instead my family embraced an entirely different way to handle our shortcomings.

In 2007 my mom sent out a Christmas letter mocking the typical card of the overachieving family who validates the year by documenting and mass sending a list of the children’s accomplishments while labeling this a “Christmas card.” My need for braces and my four consecutive years of failed auditions to the school musical were highlights of the letter. I would never like to admit the humor of the Christmas card of 2007, nor would I ever let myself be subjected to such public torment again, but there was something to it. My mom may have been using her children’s failure for her own comedic gain, but she also sent a message about understanding that failures or loss can define us in whatever way we choose to let them.

Resilience was never about perfection, it has always been about failure – and that is why it is so crucial in education. Self-esteem in students is important, but will only be a short-term gain when it is a result of shielding students from the reality of failure. The security that a student-teacher relationship is capable of provides the perfect backdrop for a student to fail. Students need not only to fail, but they need to be taught what to do with the broken pieces.

When inevitably the material at hand doesn’t make sense or the learning is not coming as easily as it has in the past, students need an understanding that this will not stop them. Sometimes this will come natural, but sometimes this is a learned behavior. Resilience should be a key piece of hidden curriculum taught over and over again year after year in every classroom.

This is the role of the teacher. Teachers are not protectors, and whether they know it or not students crave more than a participation trophy. One of the greatest gifts a teacher can give – whether it be a school teacher, a parent teacher, a friend teacher, or any type of teacher – is the demand for resilience and the acknowledgment of failure.

I don’t know everything I want my future self to be as an educator, but I do know I want to be a teacher of resilience.

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