My Teacher Site: Enhancing Classroom Communication

Wendy Says

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Make It Hard to Fail

What would you be willing to do as a teacher to help your students succeed in your class? Is there a way of making it harder to fail than to pass? We’ve all had those students who are very skilled at failing and who are seemingly incapable of succeeding in spite of your best efforts. This situation is all too common in the core subjects of math, science, and English. The fun-and-games approach can only go so far before the student has to put in some effort at learning the fundamentals of the subject. This is the point at which we can easily identify which students are going to do the work or not, and by the first test, the pattern is set. 

Meet Angela Campbell, a high school chemistry teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District for the last 20 years. She works with inner city kids who represent a wide variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds. After a few years of struggling with students who weren’t motivated to learn, Ms. Campbell changed her teaching strategy to make it so difficult to fail that the students would find it easier to succeed. She has had incredible results in changing attitudes from “self-defeat” to “I can do this,” while working through the tremendous challenges that an inner city school presents. 

Ms. Campbell developed an approach of keeping track of each student’s progress, and with this method, she found that she could immediately identify the problem areas and assign work to help conquer those problems. She also spent a lot of time counseling her students so that there was no doubt as to what they needed to do to succeed. How she managed to do this with a full teaching schedule and numerous classes to be responsible for is nothing short of a miracle. She found a way to incorporate the practical with the personal, and she has the results to prove its effectiveness. 

While we teachers cannot save every student from failing, we can certainly reduce the numbers. It doesn’t matter the age of your students as they all have needs and concerns that can interfere with their learning success. When teaching is handled as a “black-and-white” experience, you are going to have problems, and if a student runs into a rough patch early in the semester, it is almost a certainty that the rest of the semester/academic year will continue in the same manner. The trick is to identify the situation and have a mini “academic intervention.” I can promise you that you will have enough successes to outweigh the failures, and that will give you the energy and strength you need to not give up.

Academic self-esteem is established at an early age, and the goal is to instill as much self-confidence as possible in each child’s personal abilities. We have all seen the devastating effects on a child that is passed from one class to another with the unspoken message of being a failure following along. I saw it happen in my family when I was growing up, and all it took to reverse it was a teacher who found the time to show my brother what his potential was; he did four years’ worth of school in that one year. 

Failure hurts, and we are in a unique position to teach our students that failure needn’t be an end, but a starting point. I would encourage you to take the time to read Ms. Angela Campbell’s blog article (as well as the postings and replies), and see if there isn’t a way you can do something to reach an unmotivated child. We voluntarily chose to become teachers, and we can make a difference.