Fail once, fail better

Eva Spitzen

In 2010, students proposed a “rejection wall” on which students could post college rejection letters. The proposal garnered popular support; however, according to Assistant Principle Brad Matheany, administration rejected it on the grounds that it would create negative energy and foster a “mob mentality” among students. Career Center Liaison Miriam Taba felt differently. She designated an area of the whiteboard in the Career Center for both college acceptances and denials, in the hopes that seniors will be able to deal with rejection by seeing that they are a part of a greater community undergoing similar struggles. Taba’s substitution provides students with an avenue to deal with something that they often spend all four years of high school evading: failure.

Too often, MVHS students define academic shortcomings as failures rather than opportunities to grow.  Concepts such as the “Asian Fail,” which views any feat short of perfect as a failure, are without a doubt often internalized by students. Instances such as students becoming extremely distressed after one bad test illustrate that students are ill-equipped to deal with failure. Rather than using a setback such as a failed test or a bad grade as an opportunity to learn and grow, students wallow in their failure and obsess about their shortcomings. Oftentimes parents don’t help. The intense academic pressure levied upon students by parents can foster an environment in which failure is not acceptable, hindering any opportunity for growth.

Staff Ed FINALMany teachers on campus promote the concept of a “growth mindset”, in which students envision their qualities as being able to grow and mature as a result of hard work and effort. One such teacher is Christy Utter, who teaches both ninth grade Literature and Writing and twelfth grade Contemporary literature. Every year, Utter dedicates one day to teaching students about the merits of a growth mindset in the hopes that students will learn to accept their shortcomings with optimism. Rather than accept their “failures,” students should try to learn and improve from failure and create a foundation on which further knowledge can be built.  “Moving on,” or promising to do better, ultimately fails students because they do not seriously consider what was causing their setbacks in the first place.

The manner in which classes are run can also have a significant impact on fostering a growth mindset in students. In classes such as AP Economics, students get hardly any opportunities to review tests they’ve taken and are unaware of their class grade until it appears on their report card at the end of the semester. This kind of environment is obtrusive to learning from failure — when students have no opportunity to see how they’re progressing, there is no way to learn from initial shortcomings. Instead of increasing their own ability to absorb and internalize material, students become fixated on one final grade with no data to understand it. In this manner, classes that don’t allow periodic checkups on progress — like returning tests and posting grades on schoolloop — hinder the ability of students to learn from their mistakes, as they aren’t aware of the mistakes they are making.

Students’ ability to thrive is reliant upon their ability to adapt to the world around them.  Faculty members should allow students to utilize platforms such as the rejection board as a means of learning to deal with failure. By addressing failures, students will be able to find success in the long run.  While academic knowledge can be forgotten over time, critical thinking skills, that would be gained by looking to grow from problems will not.  Students’ ability to advance in the academic and professional world hinges upon their ability to adapt, something high school is not teaching enough of.