Using Personal Failures to Help Your Students

I’ve failed a lot in my 25 years of existence, and I will continue to fail for the rest of my life.  Failure is an important part of our lives and often leads to our successes.  But failure is not a part of our schools.  When students fail, they’re not taught to overcome this failure; oftentimes they’re taught that failure should be avoided.

But with the growing emphasis on “grit” our personal failures are going to become an important part of our teaching.  We need to start teaching students that failure is a part of learning.  And I try to do that by telling students about times that I’ve failed as a person, as a student, and as a teacher.

I have a few students who just don’t turn in homework.  It’s not that they lack support at home or don’t understand the material; it’s that they just don’t want to do the work.  We all have that student, or students, who ace their tests, but get a B because they have 0’s for homework grades.  Hell, I was even that student once.  And that’s where my personal failures can help change these students’ behaviors.

Instead of shaming them or emphasizing the importance of grades, I told a few of my 8th grade students, “I was like you when I was in school.  I did well on my tests, but didn’t do homework.  Mostly because I didn’t want to.  I got pretty good grades in high school, enough to get me into the college I wanted to go to; but when I got there, I failed.  I failed two classes and got Ds in a couple others.  I was on academic probation and had a 1.8 GPA.  Because I didn’t do my homework, I hadn’t built up good work habits.”

“In middle school and high school, for students like us, homework isn’t just to help us understand the material.  It helps us build up the habit of getting home from school and taking care of our work.  So right now, in middle school, it might be alright to get a few Bs or Cs, but when you move onto high school they’re going to stack up.  And by the time you get to college, it’s going to be very hard to change your ways.”

“So instead of trying to get all of your homework done in all of you classes, pick one.  Pick one class to start turning in every assignment.  Once you’ve got that going, add in another class.  By the end of the year you should have an A in every class.  You’re going to forget sometimes, but we all do.  The key is building up those work habits now, instead of trying to dig yourself out of a hole later.”

This isn’t a silver bullet by any means.  And they’re middle schoolers, so they’re going to need reminding.  But at the end of the day, I need to teach them how to get their work done and how to deal with their failures.  And for me, the best place to start was with my own failures as a student.

Brandon BowyerBrandon Bowyer  is new social studies teacher in Virginia. He loves teaching all areas of social studies and is  excited to apply his pedagogical and content knowledge to the teaching profession! You can follow him at Mr. Bowyer’s Social Studies Showroom.

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One thought on “Using Personal Failures to Help Your Students

  1. Brandon, I’m really impressed with your insight in this post. It sounds like you have a knack for using your personal experiences to connect with students and guide them toward making better decisions. I also think that you are smart to break their goal for improving homework completion into smaller steps, trying to succeed in one class at a time. Your post reminds me to help students work through their failures! Thanks!

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