“Failure is not an option.”
I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has said that to me. And I get it. It’s fun to say. It conveys passion and dedication and a sense of badassary. I get wanting to say it. I get wanting to inspire those around us to succeed with those words.
The problem is its prevalence is only matched by its folly.
Failure is always an option.
I’m not the only person saying this. Just give “failure is always an option” a web search and see just how much comes up. I don’t want to use this space and this time to argue for my philosophy on failure. You just need to know that fundamental to what I say next is the acknowledgment that failure does indeed exist and is an ever present option. It is true in life and it is true in teaching.
Again, it is true in teaching.
I started thinking about this because of the tweet pictured. Stay in this game long enough and you will fail a student. You will try and try and try. You will change up your instruction strategy. You will pilot new inventions. You will use the best tools you have which have given you high percentage success in the past. You will talk with the student’s former teachers for advice. You will seek out your mentors for counsel. You will do this and more.
You will still fail this student. The process will be exhausting and demoralizing. The result will be heartbreaking and make you question yourself.
Knowing all that there is a luxury we are not afforded- giving up.
Everyday you gotta come back and bring your best again. You don’t get to give up. Don’t get me wrong. I realize that, just like failure, giving up is an option but once you do you are no longer that student’s teacher. You are just a placeholder.
I know how difficult this is. Like I said in the tweet, this is one of the most difficult lessons for teachers to learn. I know I said heartbreaking before but let’s throw in soul crushing as well. Failing, especially a student, hurts.
You know what hurts worse? Living with the fact that you gave up on someone.
This has been an exceptionally gloomy post so let’s get to the sunshine.
Stay in this game long enough and you have a student you were ready to give up on come back and see you. In your mind you not be able to recall anything approaching your definition of success with this student This student will tell you about their life. They will tell you you were the best teacher ever. They will say “Thank you for not giving up on me.”
Just a little shiver about how close you were to giving up.
From me to you far in advance of that student showing up, thanks for not giving up.