Dear Struggling Student: I Failed a Test this Year
For those of us who work with students with dyslexia, and don’t have dyslexia ourselves, we have to be extremely observant of our students. We have to develop empathy. We have to understand the nuances of each and every one of our students. I never tell my students I know how they feel. I make a very conscious effort to never tell them, or insinuate, they aren’t trying hard enough. But I am human. I have gotten frustrated, but I pull it together quickly and I verbally let the student know the problem is my teaching, not their learning. But nothing seemed to connect me more with my students than what I shared with them this year.
I love school. My students know I love school and talking about words. So, they weren’t surprised to learn that I went back to school this year to become a linguist. As the semester progressed I shared with them all the cool stuff I had been learning. One class I was taking in particular, Syntax, I found incredibly interesting and fun, but it was also hard and complicated. In fact, I failed the midterm. It was probably the first test I have ever failed, that I can remember, but I still failed.
So, I told my students about my failure. They couldn’t believe it. I told them that my failure wasn’t a reflection of what I understand about the subject, but I failed to finish the test because I wasn’t paying attention and missed an entire page of questions. So, I turned in an incomplete midterm. I shared with them that I went to speak with my professor and told him that I was distracted during the midterm with real-life things and that I did not intentionally leave that page blank. After we talked a bit about the topic and the questions I didn’t complete, he said, “I can clearly see you understand the material, so I will help you overcome this grade.” He was one on the good ones, he allowed me to verbalize my knowledge and was able to see that my bad grade was not evidence of what I did not understand, but evidence of a situation. Sound familiar??
While I shared that story with my students, one at a time, I watched their faces. They smiled and started to sit up a little straighter. The story resonated with them and gave them the evidence they needed to know that they are not the only one who struggles, we all make mistakes. We all have difficulty in some aspect of school. Maybe, like in my case, it’s reading directions, maybe it’s reading, maybe it’s spelling, maybe it’s making friends, maybe it’s sports, maybe it’s math, maybe its art, maybe it’s music, maybe it’s speaking in front a group. We are all vulnerable. As educators, parents, and friends, we have to show our students that vulnerability, share our own failures along with how we overcame them. We have to humanize ourselves to our most struggling students who are at-risk for giving up.
So there you have it, I failed a test this year, and I have a doctorate, I wrote a book, I teach graduate school courses, I work with students. What does that say about my intelligence or my understanding of the topic? Not a damn thing and my professor agreed with me. There is no shame in my game and there shouldn’t be in yours either.