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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Failure is educational for teachers too

Being “the worst” in his weight-lifting class made Ryan Sprott a better teacher, he writes on Ed Week Teacher.

“Remembering what failure feels like can be difficult for teachers,” he writes. Adults usually get to avoid doing things they’re not good at. Students don’t have that choice.

When I began workout classes as an adult, I was transported back to that dusty weight room of my youth, once again feeling like a failure in comparison to those around me. I was partnered with a guy close to my size, and, just like in junior high, he still lifted twice as much as me. But there was one big difference. This time, I had an exceptional teacher. My trainer, Jeff, gave me what all struggling students need: He focused my attention on personal growth by turning my gaze inward, never outward. He kept clear records of my progress, and when he noticed me looking dismayed, he would point to my chart as evidence of growth.

Sprott worried less about not lifting as much as others and stayed motivated. Then he began wondering about his own teaching.

How often did I help struggling students clearly see and reflect upon the process of their own growth? How often did I remind them that they all learned things at different paces and all had their own strengths?

A social studies teacher in Texas, Sprott switched to mastery grading “to help students understand how and why they are improving.”

He asks students the same questions at different points in the year, so they can “see how their thinking changes or becomes increasingly complex.”

I’m a very competitive person. As a student, I expected to be among the best in every academic class. I’ve learned as an adult to enjoy doing things that I’m not good at.

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