Thursday, June 14, 2012

Too Big To Fail?

This year has been a long one for many teachers out there. Teachers are constantly pushing themselves to be better every day in the hopes of reaching more students. As I tried to help teachers and students this year, I thought about whether or not teachers are "too big to fail".

As an educator, I'm tasked with teaching my students the things they will need to know in a designated content area to prepare them for state exams and the next year of instruction. I have been given curriculum to teach the students and have been allowed to determine how to impart the curriculum to the students. It's a fairly straightforward process.

Over the past few years, I have moved away from the traditional "stand, lecture, test" model that teachers have used for decades; to a more project based learning approach to engage my students. During that transition, there were growing pains. I tried new ideas and sometimes they worked great and others were awful. I have always tried to shield the students from my mistakes. Although the lesson might have been flawed, I always made sure to spend the time needed to make sure they understood the material. My failures allowed me to become a better teacher (in my opinion).

Technology has added another element to my classroom the past couple of years. I've been excited (Some say too excited) to try new things and enhance the learning in my classroom. Now, with trying new things, there are always glitches. I never use new technology to use new technology, just like I never used new lessons just to use new lessons. These decisions are based on curriculum and student needs. Trying things for the first time will sometimes lead to failure. Teachers can try things out all they want, but working with 30+ students is different.  To grow as a teacher, we need to try new things. What always works works great until it doesn't. Teaching is not a static profession. Teachers need to continually strive to be better. If we don't try and fail, how to we grow?

I feel I have learned so much from trying new things and exploring what "good" teaching means to me. I want nothing more than to be a great teacher to all of my students. Is that possible? I'm not sure, but I will never give up trying. If trying and failing makes me look like a bad teacher, then I guess I'm failing and failing and will try to learn something from that.

Is trying to be a better teacher worth failing at new endeavors? Is the potential impact on student learning worth the risk? Are teachers "too big to fail"?


  1. Definately not to big to fail. We have to model what we want our kids to do. You learn from what you mess up, than what you get right the first time. The key is = learning from those failures. If you learn its not a failure but a teaching/learning moment.

  2. No way. I love failing, because too often (standardized tests) kids are told it's bad to fail. Yet Pinterest is littered with kitschy sayings about famous people who failed and it made them better.

    So which is it? Fail and be successful? Or never take a single risk and never fail and be forever mediocre? So when a lesson (or tech) fails, I take a moment to acknowledge it and ask my students for feedback. If the teaching model is indeed shifting away from the one expert in the room, then we need to not be afraid of those conversations.

  3. Great post. This is a question I often ask myself, with a slight variation: "is it okay if I fail?" My answer is almost always yes. The big difference is that for my students, their answer is no. In their eyes, not only is it not okay for me to fail, but it's not okay for them to fail, either.

    I think it's really important that we model failure for our students. What is an appropriate response? How does one handle failure? What makes failure helpful versus defeating? I know I model this. . .umm. . .well, more often than I'd like. But that's part of taking risks and growing. Hopefully more teachers can take a page from your book and try things, even if it means sometimes failing.

  4. Thank you for your reflection. Simply put, you have become a fantastic example for your students. Striving to be the best you can, while taking risks and reflecting, is EXACTLY what I wish education to become.

    Too often we are asked to only reflect when "scores" are returned to the school/teacher, and we are asked how we can become better at preparing our future students for a test. Shouldn't we be reflecting more often about something more important? Say, how can we better prepare our students to handle difficult situations TOMORROW?

    Thanks again for confirming my desi to take calculated risks, reflect and improve as I work with my current students.

  5. Here's the thing, Pal: If school leaders -- and #edpolicy makers -- really want teachers to take professional risks while improving their practice, they'd darn well better change their current accountability practices!

    Can we really blame teachers for NOT experimenting with their practice when screaming lunatics with cudgels are waiting to beat them down as soon as their test scores take a dip?

    The truth is that nothing about the current high-stakes accountability environment of schools encourages experimentation.

    When you're afraid that you are going to lose pay -- or your job -- because of the impact that a few lost lessons have on standardized test scores, you stop thinking creatively real quick.

    Any of this make sense?

    Basically, while I'm probably being pessimistic here, I don't think a spirit of innovation will REALLY take over our schools until we rethink what we REALLY want to hold our teachers accountable for.

    Anyway -- thanks for making me think this morning...


  6. Great questions. As a new teacher, failing is all I seem to do some days. But with each failure, I get thicker skin and a better grasp on what works. As long as my errors don't affect student learning negatively, I see them as a positive. Furthermore, they will only improve learning in the long run!

  7. AND, I agree with Jules and wyzreads. It's good for students to see that failure is a part of learning and can be used positively.

  8. Failure is a great tool! It allows you to rethink, reflect, and reevaluate! Our students need to see us fail so that they will learn that the real world is full of failures, many more failures than successes for most people! If you never fail, it means you never tried. Unfortunately, as someone pointed out in the comments above, policymakers cannot expect perfect test scores from teachers who are innovating and trying new approaches.

    Sadly, I believe we are in a few short "years of grace" as the Common Core is implemented. The federal assessment hangs like a guillotine blade ready to fall, and armies of politicians march to "reform" our pay scales and tenure, armed with merit pay, Race to the Top money, and corporate-backed, school-in-a-box programs. As long as the people who are making our education policies have never been in a classroom and have testing companies like Pearson shoving dollars in their pockets, innovation will continue to be a risk few are willing to take.

    Reliance on test scores and refusal to take risks will continue to create generations of people who are paralyzed by fear of failure, and America will continue its spiralling descent into mediocrity. To quote Dr. Seuss,"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not!" I just oray that there will be some who will continue to fight against the testing Juggernaut as long as it's possible to do so.


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