Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Failure Hurts...But It's Okay

It's been just over a week since I got the disappointing news that I wasn't selected to be the next department head of Canada and World Studies at my school.  I have been processing the information since I found out--Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at roughly 5:30pm.  I pondered writing a blog post about the experience, but because it feels so fresh and so personal, I decided against it.  Then I remembered: one of the largest reasons I blog is to reflect on my experiences, so it only makes sense for me to write about my failed attempt to become a department head.

After the tears, the incredible feeling of failure set in.  I began to question my abilities as a teacher; the ways I carved leadership opportunities for myself or acted upon opportunities to show leadership; my reputation at school.  I felt worthless:  maybe I wasn't as great a teacher as I thought and had been led to believe, maybe my leadership skills were undeveloped, maybe I was THAT person, the one nobody wants to work with.

Fortunately, the debrief with my principal helped to put my mind at ease.  It wasn't that I'm horrible that I didn't get the job; the successful candidate was simply better.

The reasons I keep trying.  Photo courtesy Ravens Ridge Photo.
The experience made me realize that I work with some top notch teachers and students.  The number of people who asked how I was, or who shared similar experiences, comforted me.  It's nice to know that people didn't see me as a failure.  One student, who was working on an essay while a colleague shared his experiences with me, said later, "I'm sorry.  I think you're doing a great job".  Cue tears!

The experience also made me consider how to want to role model failure for my daughters.  I want them to take risks, to put themselves out there, to be vulnerable.  I want them to be okay with failing, and realize that there is a difference between failing and being a failure.  I don't want failure to prevent them from going for what they want or to make them question their self-worth. And I can't let failure do the same to me.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

I Make Students Do Assignments That I Don't Want To Do Myself

I have been doing some thinking about assignments that students are required to complete in order to earn their credits.  This is especially timely, since we're nearly at the end of first semester.  This afternoon, the tweet below captured my attention and really made me think about what I require my students to do and if I would want to do the same tasks.

In my mind, I went through the assignments that my three classes have worked on over the course of the semester, and I'm not too happy.  My findings are below.

I'm not sure what this says about me or about my teaching.  Am I a lazy person, who just doesn't want to do anything that requires formalized writing and really close analysis?  Am I a sub par teacher, who just has students do assignments because they have always been assigned and why change?

What are the purposes of the assignments I make students do, but would never do myself, unless required to pass a course?  In looking at the English course, I notice that I don't want to do any of the tasks that require essay writing.  What type of English teacher would I be if I didn't require students to write an essay?  Is it possible for students to learn the appropriate skills without doing the essay?

Most dismal is the Grade 10 history course.  I make them do literacy assignments in an half-hearted attempt to get them ready for the OSSLT: a test I am glad I did not have to pass to earn my high school diploma.  The purpose of the weekly quizzes is horrible:  a way to force students to write down their notes.  What on earth am I thinking?  The other assignments are just blah...they measure (hopefully) the students' understanding, but they aren't particularly engaging.  No wonder my history class hates my history class.

The silver lining in all of this is the Grade 12 history class.  There are only two assignments that I would not do...and I already had plans to make those changes.  The pirate photo album will be changed back to the pirate cartoon, which students did the first time I taught the class.  The Vietnam War letter will be changed, because I intend on removing the unit and replacing it with a unit about the War on Terror and a discussion about "enhanced interrogation techniques".

I am left with one significant question: just because I don't want to do the assignment (and believe that students probably don't either) does that mean there isn't value in it?