I was initially drawn towards the topic of failure not only as a graduate student, but also as a relatively new undergraduate teacher that frequently encounters failure in the classroom. Halfway through the article by Carr (In Support of Failure), I had an Ah-Ha moment. The author describes how we can re-conceptualize failure to include not only the personal realm, but also to consider the sociocultural context in which the failure occurs. Students may be either “held back” or placed in “remedial” classes to compensate for their lack of understanding of course material. The personal failures of the student are punished by segregating them into another classroom, distant from his/her peer group. I agree that we should consider the sociocultural context of the failure, but we should also seek to examine whether the nature of the undergraduate classroom (specifically) can transform how students and we (as educators) understand and communicate our failures.
I recently handed back graded papers, in which most of the class scored around the C-range. Immediately after handing back the paper one of my student’s hands shot up. She wondered what the class average was. When I answered her questions with, “a C average” I could sense the release of tension in a room. Students frequently use social comparisons to determine the “degree” of their failures within the classroom. It seems that the sense of shame that Carr later discusses can be transformed into a group-shame dynamic in college that often lightens the burden of experiencing this heavy emotion. As teachers, we may give students the class grade distributions and consequently, we may be encouraging students to accept their failures in relation to their peers. Will this transformation of shame and the subsequent movement towards students’ acceptance of their failures lead to a classroom full of unmotivated/lazy students? If we are to encourage students to accept failure (as Carr suggests), this paradigm shift must permeate beyond my classroom and into an entire campus for it to be effective. I also wondered whether there were differences in “failure acceptance” across the CUNY campuses. Are some of our campuses promoting the acceptance of failure? If so, how are they doing it effectively without creating an underachieving student body?
Turning more inward, Carr also talks about giving ourselves permission to experience failure “on its own terms,” and many of the articles in the Journal of IT & P illustrate personal reflections from educators on failures they’ve had within the classroom. We’ve been taught to feel shameful of our behaviors, but why don’t we as educators discuss our failures in an effort to learn from each other? I’ve noticed that student teachers do this frequently through informal conversations in the hallways, but we don’t publicly discuss these failures. I’m not advocating for teachers to publicize all of their classroom failures, but I’d love to learn from the successes and failures of other educators. How do we get far enough past the shame associated with failure to discuss our personal classroom failures with other teachers?