Dear Students, I Want You to Fail: A Message for the first day of class - Room 213

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Dear Students, I Want You to Fail: A Message for the first day of class

This weekend, as I prepare both my classroom and my first day "spiel", I'm thinking a lot about what I want most out of my students.  Perhaps I'm a bad girl, because I'm not thinking about outcomes and curriculum, but I'd much rather think about ways to foster a love of learning in my class. While the curriculum is important, rambling on about it is certainly not going to inspire my students.

So, when I stand before them on Tuesday, I want to begin to create an environment that will focus much more on the learning process than on the marks that students and parents see as the most important thing. I know it will never come out the same, but here is what I would like to say:

"Dear Students, I want you to fail. 

Now before you go running to the office to get out of my class, I don't want you to actually fail the class.  Far from it.  I want you to do better than you've ever done in a class before.  And to do that, you have to fail sometimes.

Unfortunately this system of ours puts a lot of focus on numbers and those numbers can be paralyzing.  They can make you feel stupid.  They can make you feel proud.  And regardless of which of those feelings the numbers inspire, they can cause you to get stuck.  Stuck believing that you can't do it, or stuck believing that you are great at it and, therefore, don't need to get better. Both situations make you very afraid of failure, and fear of failure keeps you from learning. It keeps you from taking the risks that you need to take in order to grow as a student and a person.

It's scary to be given a problem or assignment that stumps you.  Regardless of your average, difficult tasks can make you feel frustrated or inadequate because the school system is so quick to put one of those numbers on your work.  So instead of approaching difficult work as an interesting challenge, you feel stress.  Some of you will rise to the occasion and meet a challenge head on, but others will shut down, afraid to fail.  Am I right?

So, this year, I'd like you to embrace failure.  I'd like you to stretch outside your comfort zone.  If a runner wants to go faster or farther, she has to push herself when she practices. Some days, she will fly. Some days she will suck wind. If an artist wants to try a new technique, he may create a lot of mess before a masterpiece emerges.  In each case, someone wants to improve and knows that s/he needs to have some bad days on the way to great ones. Likewise, as students, you need to look at a difficult reading or writing assignment as an opportunity to build your skills in this class, as a puzzle you need to solve. Stretch, question, theorize, wonder. Work with each other--and me--to put the pieces together.

But how do you do that without affecting your average?  I know the reality.  I know the schools you want to go to are quite interested in those numbers.  Well, during the semester, we will be doing a lot of practice.  We will run faster and farther and make a lot of messes.  I will give you lots of feedback that does not have a mark attached.  That doesn't mean that there won't be marks.  There will be.  But before the marks "count" you will be given lot of instruction and chances to practice. All I ask of you is that you come in here every day, ready to do a little failing on your road to success."

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