I’m a failure

CC image via flickr by John Liu
Last week I failed at something. I interviewed for a job and I didn’t get it. Or, in the context of a high stakes, standardized tests, I failed and the only thing I learned was that I wasn’t good at that job and never would be. While my family, friends and colleagues didn’t consider it a fail, I thought of how my situation might parallel students taking a high stakes test. In my situation, I already possess a great job and was simply acting upon a great opportunity that came my way. Additionally, after receiving the news I was able to follow up and keep the conversation lively.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of our students. The stress and importance placed upon a test can hinder a student dramatically. What’s more, this annual occurrence places a negative stigma around school and what the experience of learning should be. While the stress and desire to succeed is easily parallel to interviewing for a job, I know I will gladly interview again. For many of our students, this arbitrary measure of skill will attach to their name and live on in their educational portfolio.

As educators we’re constantly striving to prepare our students for the real world, yet we’re not giving them real world challenges in our schools because of the importance of testing and results. Our mission statements state that we will educate and produce good citizens, yet state and federal officials treat our students like another brick in the wall.

Some may see my experience as a failure, but I see it as a learning moment. The interview process was not only an exercise in self reflection, but an experience that has given me new perspective. We need to instill the same insights in our students and provide them with greater challenges than a test. Life is not multiple choice or fill in the blank. It’s composed of new challenges each day both in our personal lives and professional lives. It requires that we constantly adapt and consistently learn as much as we can.

Some of the most beneficial learning moments in my life did not include the moments when everyone on the team got a trophy, but rather, when I didn’t get that trophy. I’ve learned more through my “failures” than through my successes. And each time I grew as a learner. This isn’t to say we should encourage our students to strive for failure, but teach them about humility and that sometimes there’s only one winner. But, despite that loss, students should employ self reflection and use the loss not as an endpoint, but a springboard towards the next success.

Unfortunately, our national curriculum and our state tests don’t allow for this opportunity. State tests are final, and don’t encourage reflection or motivation to learn beyond that particular assessment. What’s more, the challenge is minimal and has limited application in everyday life. While I may have “failed” I know it’s not final and that I will learn from this moment. Wouldn’t it be great if our state tests encouraged the same? This is a call to encourage students to take risks and not fear failure, but embrace the learning that’s associated with it. Our education policy makers at every level owe our students so much more than what we’re offering them.