Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thankful for failure

I had a change of heart after a discussion at my book club on Sunday afternoon (BTW, we read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter which was ok but definitely didn't live up to the hype).  Mackenzie, one of the girls, is younger and is currently in a Master's Program to become an English teacher.  She said that she's had a lot of trouble passing the Praxis for her content knowledge and basically feels defeated and that she'll never get it passed.  At this point she's going into the test thinking she won't pass (which we all know doesn't help).

One of my friends pointed out that although it doesn't feel good now, the struggles she's having with this test will help her to be a better teacher.    Mackenzie will be able to empathize and relate with the kids who have test anxiety or who struggle with taking tests.

I was thinking during this discussion that I was missing out because I didn't have that experience in school.  Everything came pretty easily to me and I honestly didn't work hard at all.  Every summer before school started my dad would say, "Now this is the year you'll have to start working."  And then I didn't.  I wasn't at the top of my class but ended up at the college that I wanted to go to and received an academic scholarship to boot.

Yesterday one of my Algebra 2 classes asked me if I'd always been good at math.  We're working through solving and graphing polynomials now and some of them are really struggling with it (not that they're working very hard at it, but that's another post).  I think they wanted to know that this didn't always seem so easy for me.  Fortunately, I was able to tell them about the time that I failed a math test in 6th grade on multiplying and dividing decimals; I think that made me seem more human.  (Let me just say, though, that I'd missed days in class because of an Enrichment class I attended and didn't get the whole "move the decimal" thing before the test.  I can multiply and divide decimals now. :)  )  I almost wished that I could tell them that I didn't do well in high school or struggled with this topic in Algebra 2 and was able to work through it...

I've always been bitter about failing that test.  But yesterday I realized that it helped me, at least in their eyes.

1 comment:

? said...

Whenever I tell my regular math students that I got C’s in geometry and that in middle school everyone in my math class except me and one other student got put into honors algebra in eighth grade, there’s a genuine “I get what you’re going through” moment between me and my students. That’s one of the reasons why I go to great pains to celebrate when a C student gets a hard-earned A on one of my tests—I get how much of a big deal that accomplishment is.

Students need to know that math is heavy lifting but that through hard work they can not only do well, they can feel a sense of accomplishment at conquering the “math beast” and even start to change some of their self-limiting beliefs that have held them back in math.

Paul Hawking
The Challenge of Teaching Math
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