No, You Didn’t Make It, Such Is Life – Should We Shield Students from Disappointment?

I still remember my reaction after I hung up the phone.  Shock, disbelief, and then uncontrollable tears and anger.  How dare he tell me I didn’t get the job?  How dare he tell me that I interviewed really well but someone else just beat me by a little bit? How dare he not give me what I deserved?  And then rational Pernille took over, I took a deep breath, and realized once again; such is life.  Disappointment, no matter how much we would rather live with it, is a constant in life.  We don’t always get what we want even though we worked so hard for it.  We don’t always get the job, the guy, the prize, whatever our heart and dedication has been set on.  We just don’t always win and that realization is part of being an adult.

This past week I had to deal with being the cause of disappointment at my school.  I, along with a fellow teacher, run the annual talent show where students audition to hopefully make it into the show.  Not all students make it because of time constraints and we are faced with tough decisions of who gets to be in the show.  This may seem a surprise for those who read this blog; that I would have anything to do with sorting children, and yet, here is my exception.  This show is not mandatory.  Students choose to audition well knowing that they may not make it.  They rehearse, they create and then they give it their best shot, and just like in adult life, sometimes that shot just isn’t good enough.  Sometimes the audition just goes poorly, sometimes they need more rehearsal, sometimes it comes down to logistics.  Whatever the cause for the cut, it is never easy to tell a child that they didn’t make it.  And yet, such is life.

So how do we deal with disappointment in our children and our students?  As a parent, I know how much I want Thea to succeed in whatever she puts her mind too but at the same time I know there will be disappointment.  I know there will be times when I cannot understand why she didn’t make it, why she didn’t get it, why she didn’t win, but at the same time I don’t want her to feel she always should.  I want her to realize that it doesn’t come down to life being unfair, but rather that we cannot get everything we put our minds and hearts to.  That it is okay to get upset but then you need to move on and do something constructive with your emotions.  That disappointment is inevitable and it is what we do afterwards and how we react to it that matters.

Some parents think the talent show should be stopped.  That it is not healthy for us to “do” this to children and I would agree with them if the students were forced to audition, but they are not.  In elementary school there is such a fear of disappointment and having our students fail.  We shield them from sadness and anything where they might not succeed, but at what cost?  We cannot shield them forever, we cannot control life and other people.  So why not help them through disappointing situations instead?  Why not have mini situations, such as a talent show, where we can help them process their feelings and give them tools they can use later in life as well.  Why not be role models rather than bubble creators?  Why not let them fail and then learn from that?  I would love your thoughts.

6 thoughts on “No, You Didn’t Make It, Such Is Life – Should We Shield Students from Disappointment?

  1. I agree. There's certainly a place for unconditional acceptance. However, there will be times when kids don't make it to a team, where they try something and fail or when their hard work doesn't transfer into measurable results. The value in a teacher is helping a student cope with that reality with grace and acceptance rather than angry outbursts or complete depression.

  2. I completely agree! At my school we've changed field day from the way I certainly did it a bit ago. Instead of students winning a 1st, 2nd, 3rd ribbon for events. EVERYONE WINS and gets a ribbon. This, just like your talent show, would be a mini way of teaching how to deal with not winning… or should I say failing? I get lifting students up but if we do it ALL the time, when will they LEARN how to fail and what to do next?

  3. Terrific post! We hate to see students suffer, and I think part of this is personal self-preservation: when a child fails, we re-experience some of the pain of our past failures. However, just as we need to teach students to lean into this discomfort, we need to push ourselves to give students the opportunity to see failure as an opportunity to reflect and improve. If we can help our students see failure as a feedback instead of a finality, we are fueling their resiliency.

  4. I am the PE teacher at Gia's school.I don't think she "gets" what our field day is about (after 9 years?) Everyone does NOT win- each activity is a lesson in team building which is what the business world says adults need more of. When I did place ribbons, the kids did not want any color but BLUE and would leave them laying around. There was too much emphahsis on winning at any cost.

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