A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 13 2010

20 Anecdotes on Failure

What causes students to fail? I don’t mean “fail” as in “I am going to fail geometry class”; rather, I mean “fail” as in “you are a failure in life.”  (Or maybe, “fail” as in FAIL blog.)

I was spurred to think about this after noticing a brilliant, concise post that offers 20 reasons for “why intelligent people fail.” The statement seems to limit its discussion to “intelligent” people; I think the author would have been wise to cut the word “intelligent” from the title. These causes apply to everyone–”intelligent,” “unintelligent,” “smart,” “dumb,” and “clever” alike.

As I read through the list, I can vividly imagine at least one student who exemplifies each reason for failure. I don’t mean to say that these students all fail, but, at the very least, they bring them closer to failure than otherwise.  Let’s look at the list (disclaimer: I may be somewhat sardonic, but please know that I cherish each and every one of my students):

  1. Lack of motivation. KC, though far above her classmates in terms of performance, “wastes” her talents because she doesn’t have any source to drive her.
  2. Lack of impulse control. After JG throws out his arm to slap a fellow student, he immediately retracts it while apologizing.
  3. Lack of perseverance and perseveration. On the one hand, JP dabbles in every book in the classroom library but reads one page before returning it. On the other, MA persists in scrupulously perfecting her notes, even though we’ve moved onto bigger and better things in that span of time.
  4. Using wrong abilities. DT would much rather find a use for his “rhythmic” talents while writing (read: he taps the paper with his pencil more than he actually writes on it).
  5. Inability to translate thought into action. JW clearly thinks a lot about turning in assignments, since he says “I’ll turn it in tomorrow” everyday.  He rarely turns something in.
  6. Lack of product orientation. TW focuses entirely on one step at a time. If she makes a mistake at any point, she does not recognize that if she continues without correcting herself, she will end up with a complete mess of a result.
  7. Inability to complete tasks. AH’s file folder is overflowing with half-filled worksheets.
  8. Failure to initiate. DJ helps prove Newton’s theories: “bodies not in motion stay not in motion.”
  9. Fear of failure. VB, who is many years behind in reading, would almost never read anything out loud in class. Whenever he did, his eyes would flit from side to side, scanning for any signs of peer mockery (note: by year’s end, he had lost this fear, and became the first person in his period to volunteer to read).
  10. Procrastination. I am a good example of this.  What big thing am I putting off by writing this post? I wonder.
  11. Misattribution of blame. CM (here, this is not “corps member”) can’t get to school on time because his alarm clock never works, his mother sometimes forgets to wake him up, the February blizzard is still affecting bus routes in May, and his stomach “forced” him to stop by the carry-out for food.
  12. Excessive self-pity. Instead of simply working harder, ZC spends most of her time (emotionally) explaining to me the hardships that hold her back from graduating: “Mr. X, Ms. Y and Mrs. Z all gave me Fs!”
  13. Excessive dependency. AE would much rather ask me for something–to (a) take work out of her folder, or (b) sharpen her pencil, or (c) pick up the book that she just dropped, or (d) retrieve the paper ball she threw at someone–than do it herself.
  14. Wallowing in personal difficulties. Surprisingly, I had trouble placing a name to this reason. Though, honestly, I can think of CMs who exemplify this.
  15. Distractibility and lack of concentration. Any student with a cell phone (~80%), almost by definition, exhibits this.  EW–with 2 cell phones (“this one has the number I give to people I don’t like”) and a Blackberry–is the Goddess of Distractibility.
  16. Spreading oneself too thin or too thick. DP wants to do robotics, model UN, debate, as well as foolish/unlawful things with his peers.  One can’t do all of them together, unfortunately.
  17. Inability to delay gratification.  If given the option, AM would take 1 piece of candy today over 1 sack of candy tomorrow.
  18. Inability to see the forest for the trees. TW (same student as #6) is laser-like in her vision and therefore rarely gets the big picture or ultimate purpose.  She actually sees the bark on the trees–maybe its sap!–but not the forest.
  19. Lack of balance between critical, analytical thinking and creative, synthetic thinking. AC would rather engage in “sleep thinking” (read: thinking about sleep).  Most of the time, actually, he will just sleep.
  20. Too little or too much self-confidence. DR claims she intends to go to law school and then become a laywer, but she still has not demonstrated that she knows her parts of speech (note: she is a rising senior).

In all honesty, this list serves as an excellent framework for pinpointing the causes of so-called “failure”. This list will go up on my wall in order to help me bring my students closer to success, but also to keep myself on track.
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    Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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