I have a student in my sixth hour of Biology that hasn’t turned in an assignment so far this semester. He sits on his Chromebook watching soccer, his percentage plummeting.
Teachers in public schools have been instructed by administrators to do anything and everything—including altering grades—to keep a student from failing, but is that really the best thing for them? Should he fail?
Speaking personally, I remember my middle school math class where I hadn’t turned in 4 assignments in a row, resulting in an “F.” After serious punishment from my parents, I learned that my actions defined my consequences. I chose the actions, but couldn’t choose the consequences.
Today in my school, I am required to give students infinite opportunities to make up work or retake tests—no matter the due date. Teachers are reprimanded if they don’t. A colleague’s school treats outright plagiarism as a minor behavior referral, with additional worked time mandated. Why should students try in such an atmosphere?
Thousands of schools across the nation employ administrators demanding that teachers “alter semester grades for the sake of equity.” This means that if a student failed to achieve a passing grade, we shouldn’t view the student as failing, but as a victim of an oppressive and cruel system–despite the lack of evidence to support such a claim.
I contrast the apathetic feeling this sort of grade altering causes to the pride a student feels when they redouble their efforts and see a higher grade that they earned. The smile after bringing an “F” to a “C+” is one of the best things to see as a teacher. If we don’t allow students to fail, they won’t be able to reward from an investment. A sentiment of ‘I can earn this’ versus ‘someone will just bail me out anyway.’
Perhaps these trends in secondary education contribute to the push among Millennials and Generation Z to cancel all student loan debt. The system has formerly always excused their consequences and so they feel no responsibility to work off the debt. Their whole life has been someone else’s problem, so why not this?
We pretend as educators that by shielding students from failure, we’re preventing stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide. However, nothing will bring those four horsemen faster than being told failure is impossible and then falling head-first into the real world. I’ve spoken with former students who hate adulthood because no one ever told them that if missing rent results in eviction or that responsibility in one’s career determines promotion and salary.
I see the benefits of failure every year among my students. One such kid failed the first-nine-weeks of my class. Instead of bailing him out, I let him deal with his failure. His single mother informed him that she wouldn’t be housing him after high school. In response, he was in my classroom every day after school making his second-nine-weeks grade as high as possible until he passed. The following semester, he achieved honor roll. Failure brought him to a new level of success.
The undeniable truth is that despite failure, you will survive. You’ll learn to pick up the pieces in the way that every person does. You’ll learn what went wrong, what needs to change, and have a clue at how to obtain that priceless gem: success.
Failing freshman biology won’t ruin my student’s chance to go to college but will show him that he won’t survive there three weeks if things continue in kind. Retaking a class is a far preferable alternative to dropping out of university with a sense of hopelessness because you never failed before. The reality is simple: any teacher can keep a student from failing but only a great teacher can teach a student the value of failure.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.