Failing

My students’ GCSE results weren’t brilliant this year. They were by no means awful but I wanted more for mine.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently consoling, offering platitudes, even falling back on the type of motivational tidbits that usually bring me out in an unsightly rash by way of trying to assuage the disappointment that I see on my kids’ faces. On the whole, they deal with it with a sad philosophical grace that I find difficult to muster. The way they handle the situation is a credit to them but also adds to the guilt that I feel.

When we talk, not one of them blames me.

Shared responsibility is something we all feel when it comes to our students and their academic achievement. We revel in the successes. We feel pride when we see that those all-important trio of letters that kick off the alphabet next to the names we’ve been dragging through for who knows how long on. It bolsters our sense of self worth, validates the job we do. If nothing more it’s an ego boost. Their success is ours.

But that is the same for the failures too.

I review the year, think about where I might have done things differently. Perhaps a little more time on this? A greater concentration on exam prep? More feedback? Less feedback? A different colour whiteboard marker? Infinitesimal detail becomes all important in the search for where I went wrong. I scour copies of controlled assessments seeing if I might have added a few more extra marks here or there. I go through schemes of work, lesson plans, activities. I break down the machine, look for the faulty part. Replace. Build it up. Repeat. I doubt myself. I start again.

We all want a happy ending; a narrative where the odds are beaten and everyone cheers as the credits roll. But when this doesn’t happen we still have a job to do. I have a job to do. No plaudits, no backslapping, just the job.

I think about the look on their faces. I think about it a lot.

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6 comments

  1. heatherfblog

    People may think it trite but before every exam results day I tell myself:
    “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two imposters just the same.”
    Helps me anyway.

  2. Jill Berry

    Remember that helping your students deal with disappointment may well be one of the most important and valuable things you ever do for them, Thomas.

  3. Helen Davis

    Brutally honest and completely reflective…. The most important tool in a great teacher’s tool box. Exams won’t reveal other great things that you may have imparted to them to help enrich their lives.

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