Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bragging about Failure: a Contradiction in Teaching?

I am a subscriber to an AP listserv, and this week there was a post from a teacher that hit a nerve with me.  The teacher was asking for assistance because she now had several sections of AP English and each section was full.  Her problem was that the kids were in the class for the "wrong reasons" and she wanted ideas on how to weed them out.  The next day, another teacher posted something to the effect that she should "fail them early, and fail them often."   I began to think about why it is acceptable in our profession to brag about failure?

I don't know if these are the same complaints that have plagued our profession for years, or if I am just beginning to be irritated by them.  Here are some other boasts from teaching: 
  1. No one can pass my class.
  2. I am a hard grader.
  3. Can't wait to get them with this test.
  4. These are the worst kids I've ever had.
  5. I have a high failure rate.
  6. I give them a really hard test at the beginning to get rid of them.
  7. I love that no administrator has been in my room for years.
  8. (add your own)
I am going to use these little brags and transfer them into another profession--let's go with medicine.  Would a Doctor say the following? (and still have a job):
  1. No one survives my treatments.
  2. Why are all these sick people in my waiting room.
  3. I have a high failure rate.
  4. I only know how to treat smallpox (or equally archaic illness), and I am not going to learn how to treat these new illnesses.
  5. I love that no other doctor has evaluated my performance in years.
Yes, a bit dramatic, but do you see the point?  We are the only profession that can brag that people unsuccessfully come through our treatments--and it is accepted!  In any other profession, the lack of success would be seen as a failure--not a reason to brag.

How about walk-throughs and evaluations?  Most teachers are happy to be left alone and are proud of the fact that teacher assessment systems allow them to skip evaluations for years.  In Texas, I am allowed to forego evaluations for three years.  So, up until last year, I only had an administrator in my room for 40 minutes in 3 years. What other profession does this happen in?  None.

I have, of course, been guilty this type of bragging in my 20 years of teaching.  Now, however, I am trying to be cognizant of it and realize I need to be thankful for being employed in a profession I love.  I also need to realize that it is not appropriate to brag about failure.  Teaching is a job where you must constantly evaluate yourself and your methods.  Accepting failure stagnates you and your teaching and does nothing for your students.  So let's start bragging about success and keep it at that.


  1. Wow. I am very shocked by this behavior. I am trying to figure out how to get my students to pass my AP English class not fail it. Wish I could find more motivation tactics to try because it's rough when the kids don't want to take the class, but cannot drop it.

  2. I am a student and I have experienced this several times in just the last 2 years. Recently i had an english professor brag (the first day of class) about whether he or his friend who is another teacher has more kids failing. I can't help but feel hopeless when i get a teacher like this , knowing at the end of the day your dean probably will side with the teacher and hundreds of other students before and after me have to go through this guys antics just to be validated as the "hard teacher". i've actualy started looking into the armed forces for this reason alone. Teachers aren't teachers anymore..