I do my best to demonstrate that I learn from my mistakes in order to become a better person, educator, wife and mother. In my opinion, seeking perfection is a fruitless journey. I strive to inspire greatness in others and be my best self most of the time. I’m far from perfect but I’m happy with who I am. Facing a failure encourages me to do something different and better next time. My goal is to do my best to not make the same mistake again. If I do, I’ll try something different.
I surround myself with people that have the same mindset and perspective. I have a reputation of being positive and encouraging to those around me. I am happy to hold to that reputation because that’s what I want in my life and for those around me- true happiness. And from my perspective, true happiness is not perfection. We are not perfect. We mess up. We forgive. We move on. We do our best to make the right mistakes and learn together. Laugh it off, cry it out, move on stronger.
Enough about me. Let’s talk about the experience that left me speechless on Friday afternoon. Passing back the math trimester test to my students caused a breakdown that I never expected. In my 12 years, I never had this kind of response. The response from my 10 year olds SHOCKED me.
Let me provide some background. At the end of every trimester, we “check up” on how our students are doing in math. We assess them on the skills they’ve learned over that trimester. We compound three months of rigorous math work into one 7 page assessment. It took us about three class periods (60 minutes each) to complete. They worked hard on this test. You can see it all over their papers. They had a mostly-good attitude about taking it. I was encouraging (kind words and getting to chew gum ;-)), but it was still a test. And yes, text anxiety is real in kids. At 10 years old. It’s heartbreaking.
Before I passed out their tests, I explained to them (in a very comforting and positive tone), that they taught me so much about how I can better support them as learners. I explained to them that I appreciated how hard they worked as I saw it on each of their tests. I really wanted them to know that their effort mattered.
And then they got their tests back. It was like I gave them an uncurable medical diagnosis. Their heads went down. I had one go straight to the corner and refuse to come back to their desk. I had one student have a full on meltdown. I was shocked. Then came time for conversation. I compassionately asked them why getting their test back upset them. I got the reasonable response of “I thought I did better than I did,” but then I had a shift of response. One student got mad at me for putting a check mark to mark it as wrong and that I should have done a big red x instead. Another was big-tear-crying saying that he was going to be spanked when he got home. Unfortunately, it turned into a ‘family meeting’ on how we can support each other.
After having an emotional intervention, we were able to get better grips with how we did on our tests. The scores were not great, but they were willing to review their work to figure out what they did wrong. As we walked through a couple problems, they began to realize they made little mistakes and they could now articulate what they did wrong. We made progress; for most, but not all. I still had three students in big time shut down mode; two in fear of parental response, the other stuck in a negative self-talk cycle.
I’ve thought about this all weekend. I know my task is to continue to empower them and give them courage to work through difficult tasks and coaching them to be ok with performing less than expected. I”ll continue to remind them that it’s not a final judgement, its a piece of paper with problems to solve. They have so many tests ahead of them, I can’t help but worry about their educational journey if they’re already fear the outcome of their tests. In reflection, it also raises a lot of questions.
How have we created a generation that fears failure? Why are we expecting kids to be perfect? Where did this test anxiety come from? They’re fourth graders: KIDS. How can I encourage parents to put less weight on assessment outcomes? How can we create developmentally appropriate learning environments? WHY DO WE TEST SO MUCH IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL? 😦
All in all, I will continue to embrace my kiddos and tell them I believe in them. I never want them to give up because if they do, they may miss out on the greatest opportunities if they do not face their failures. We as a community of educators, parents and family members need to do the same. Kids look up to us and if for a split second they think we don’t think they’re capable of doing great things based on a TEST, we’ve failed them.
Let’s choose to empower and overcome. With great effort and strong support, we can do all things.
I don’t leave with a song this time, but a couple quotes. May you be inspired. Till next time….