Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Art of Embracing Failure

Failure, and how we don’t have to be perfect, has been a hot topic as of late. Many of us have discussed modeling failure for our students and for each other. So, I’d like to do that.

So, yesterday I realized I failed. I messed up. And I’ve been a bit panicky and stressed about it. Then, I realized, this was a perfect opportunity to model failure for my students.

I gave a midterm on Sunday, which was partially multiple choice. I carefully chose the questions, and when I graded, I decided to take the questions that most students got wrong, and make a review video. I did notice that there was one question that everyone got wrong. So, I really made that the focus of my video.

After releasing the video to students, one of them contacted me and had a question. I had used the same question on a prior quiz, a few weeks ago, but it had a different answer. I looked at the old quiz question, assuming there would be a small difference, even one word. After all, we all know that one single word can change a question entirely, and students often miss this. However, I was not so lucky. It was the exact same question, with a different answer. Yikes.

A pit formed in my stomach. How would my students trust me? I have failed them, I have let them down. I’m a fraud of an educator. These were all of the thoughts swirling through my brain.

Then I reminded myself of how often I’ve been writing about the value of failure, and learning from failure. That everyone makes mistakes. Turns out, I should practice what I preach. This feels remarkably like the time I discovered a student of mine had been struggling in her first semester due to untreated migraines. As I know all too well, it took time to find a medication that worked, and in that time, she suffered in silence and tried to push through, continuing to do her class readings, and show up to class, despite having awful migraines. If any of you are fellow migraine sufferers, you know that what shew as trying was impossible. She wasn’t retaining information, she was just making herself miserable. So, I spend some time during office hours convincing her that it was ok to take time off, to take a break, when she had a migraine. She didn’t have to push through, and no good would come of it. The next day I was sitting in my office with a terrible migraine. I could barely see my computer screen, and couldn’t think straight. My Dean of Students popped into my office, took one look at me and said “Why don’t you practice what you preach and go home?”  It was a reminder I needed, and the universe reminding me that I was not above needing the advice I so frequently doled out.

So, once again, the universe turns up to smack me in the head and remind me that I’m not perfect, and sometimes I should take my own advice.

I am not a perfect bastion of knowledge, nor am I infallible. I make mistakes, and sometimes, when feeling overwhelmed and behind, don’t pay enough attention to detail. And I need to own that, and realize it doesn’t make me less of an educator.

So, I told my students I made mistake. I said the fault completely rests on my shoulders. But I also reminded them that mistakes happen, and are ok. They are allowed to make mistakes as well. It was also a good opportunity to show that the MBE questions are tricky, and even those of us that teach for this test can mess up.

It’s not yet been a full 24 hours, but as far as I can tell the world has not ended, and my students have not yet mutinied. So, I think it’s safe to embrace our failures and use them as teaching moments.

(Melissa Hale)

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