being a teacher, failure, students

When Students Are Afraid to Try

Today it smacked me right in the face; what I am so disheartened over, what I am fighting to end, what I think is one of the downfalls of the way we educate.  It wasn’t something grand, nor something I had expected and yet there it was; taunting me to do something about it, making me feel oh so powerless.  What was this beast, you ask, fore it must have been epic?  Well, in my world it was because it was kids afraid to try…

My kids, those who I fail in front of all of the time.  Those kids who are not afraid to try something new, to create, to think of wacky ideas.  Those kids that try again and again and again every day, they just froze.  Came to me in droves, asking for help, giving up without even putting their pencil to the paper.  The culprit?  Having to create a data-set that fit the clues; one math problem.  Frustrated at first I told them to just try, mess around with some numbers, attack it whichever way they thought made sense.  Just do something.  And yet they didn’t.  They had given up, they had surrendered to this math problem, it simply made them feel stupid.

So this evening, sitting at the dinner table I shared my story with Brandon, who does more teacher reflection than the average teacher it seems.  I asked “Why?  Why were they so afraid to try?”  He stated, “Failure.”  And I think he is right.  My kids, my adventurous, smart 5th graders, were afraid to fail.  Were afraid to not get it right, so instead of trying it, they simply refused.  That way I would have to show them how, I would never know that they were not smart enough to do it, I would never know that this itty bitty problem had matched them, even if none of this was true.

So what do we do when the kids are afraid to even try?  What do we do when all of the times we have failed in front of them is forgotten?  When they have started to believe that if they cannot get it right, they should not even attempt it?  I have a classroom were we thrive on failed attempts, learn from our mistakes, and always pick ourselves up and yet today that all vanished.  Tomorrow it will be back, I am sure, those kids will be daring again, but today, they were simply scared and all I can think to myself is; what have we done to our kids?

2 thoughts on “When Students Are Afraid to Try”

  1. I see this all the time, it seems like the eraser is the enemy. It has been ingrained that starting over is failure, that erasing means your dumb, that a mistake is the end of the road. I even see this as I tutor college students. How do we get out of this rut? How do you get your students to see that mistakes are part of the process and that they are not the end but merely the beginning?

  2. Such an important question to ask because I think it is becoming a larger problem amongst our kids and causing a growth in the already huge anxiety problem that exists among our youth.Your post highlights how essential it is for us to teach our kids right from the beginning that it is totally okay to make mistakes and that it is just fine to sometimes fail at something…we should have this built into our education system. Disappointment and failing are not the end of the world and taking risks and having a go are far more important.I also love using Marva Collins' "If you can't make mistakes, you can't do anything," as well as stories like how many times Babe Ruth failed and how important it was for him to do so. I also often ban the use of erasers in my class so that kids visibly see that they made mistakes and they are okay…cross them out and move on.

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