Failing to Succeed
Long division can be a monster. When you’re in the third grade, and when a problem has a remainder in it, long division might as well be the boogey man incarnate. It rears its ugly head with its multiple steps, and many days I saw my students struggle to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. For a select few it’s not so scary, but for the majority it’s a real challenge, and I’m glad.
I want my students to encounter difficult things in my classroom that I might be able to teach them how to persevere, even when times are tough. I want them to know how to struggle well that they might later find success. In our microwave world we often think that great accomplishments are made in as little time as it takes to turn kernels of corn into popped corn. This is a farce. In fact, what scares me as an educator is the prospect of helping to raise a generation of wimps that are so insulated against anything difficult that when a problem arises they capitulate if they can’t solve it in two minutes.
I fear that somehow in our efforts to help our children be successful in life, we’ve forgotten to teach them how to fail. I read once that some businessmen in Japan have a quota of failures they are supposed to fulfill each year, and if they don’t, they are perceived as not working hard enough. Say what you will about Japanese culture, but I think they’ve got that part right. Great undertakings in business, in relationships, and in school take a great deal of struggle and failure before success comes. Furthermore, it’s through failure that we are humbled as to our own abilities and can see a little clearer how much we need other, we find out what not to do, and if we let it, God can use failure to teach us more about determination, perseverance, and especially about grace.
Life is tough, and whether on the playground or the classroom, the field or the court, in the home or at the office, everyone fails. Doctors fail, lawyers fail, CEO’s fail, manager’s fail, engineers fail and yes, even teachers fail. However, falling down is not the end of the story, it’s an opportunity to turn to God for help and in His strength rise from the ashes and keep fighting toward whatever He has called us to do. Although it may sound a bit cheesy, many of the movies we love are movies in which the characters undergo severe trial and setbacks and yet rise to overcome their circumstances. It’s why we love the story of Moses, or David, of Jacob and of Peter. They all made huge mistakes, but their failures were just a stopping point for a comeback.
I saw one student in my class struggle time and again with long division. Everyday I worked with her, and everyday it was a different mistake that led to an incorrect answer. For weeks she struggled through long division, and near the end of the year she asked me to check over a problem of hers, and I felt the pride of a parent well up within me as I realized she finally got it right. However, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke I gave her another one. Again, correct. She had struggled, and she had overcome. It was a well-earned victory, and I was proud of her because she had learned how to fail well, and ultimately, to succeed.