The kids I’ve failed. . .

I had big plans for the Radical this weekend.  I figured I’d write a cogent piece on the importance of a school’s mission, vision, values and goals statements.  I’ve been reading a bunch lately, refreshing my understanding of PLC fundamentals because I sometimes feel like my own decisions aren’t totally centered.

I’m also working up a post describing the skills necessary to prepare kids for the 21st Century.  I’ve been involved in about a dozen conversations this week with different folks trying to convince them that creation, communication, collaboration and information management have to become a more important part of our classrooms—-and struggling with the impact that standardized tests have had on my own ability to push those kinds of learning experiences in my room.

But my kids left on Friday for the final time (we operate on a year-round calendar) and I’m struggling with my emotions this morning.

It’s pretty intimidating to be a teacher, you know.  Every day, dozens of young minds roll through my classroom door trusting that I can point them in the right direction.  They believe in me—completing the tasks that I set before them, accepting my corrections, listening to my advice, learning along with me.

And in many ways, they’re depending on me.

To be successful, all I’ve got to do is identify the kinds of skills and content necessary to succeed.  I’ve got to design lessons that are both motivating and effective at moving kids forward academically.  I’ve got to sift through materials, find ways around barriers, work to inspire, understand the future, enrich, remediate and differentiate.

No pressure, huh?!

Sometimes I wonder whether or not I’m doing a good job.  Have I challenged every child?  Did stray words said in an instant lift children up or leave them behind?  Which kids have I changed forever?  Are they academically prepared to succeed in the future?  What about emotionally?  Socially?

Which kids did I fail?

That question leaves me destroyed each year because I know that there are students who I’ve failed—kids whose strengths I missed or forgot to celebrate….kids whose weaknesses I overlooked or ignored because I had to move on or fall behind…kids who didn’t feel like I loved them…kids who have a sour taste about learning because they weren’t successful or didn’t feel valued in my room.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I don’t walk into my classroom each fall with the intent of failing anyone.  I’m one of those guys who does everything with his full heart.  I’m willing to work long hours and to invest myself completely in my work.

But my work can seem completely overwhelming and totally impossible at times.  The range of abilities in my classroom each year only seems to grow—-and while I know that challenging each child as an individual is the definition of accomplishment, I drown under that effort.  Serving anywhere from 50 to 90 kids a day, I struggle to balance requirements with needs, interests, passions and personalities.

I guess I could look at the bright side, right?

I mean, there are definitely students whose lives have been changed for the better because they’ve crossed my path.  They’ve learned to question and to recognize their place in the world.  They’ve wrestled with issues like justice and injustice—and begun to understand the role that human decisions can play in bettering life for everyone.

Often, they’ve learned to believe in themselves for the first time.  They’ve felt shared joy at personal successes and embraced their own expertise.  I’ve shown them where they’ve grown, what they’ve mastered, and how they can continue to improve.  My words have been meaningful—and will continue to be meaningful as they move through middle school.

And I guess I could listen to those who encourage me to see myself as a success:  “Bill,” they’ll say, “The kids who roll through your room will remember you forever.  You’re one of the top 10 percenters—providing an learning experience that is almost unparalleled.  You can’t reach everyone—but you come damn close.”

But “coming close” just doesn’t feel good enough this morning.

The final products of my work are too important as individuals to celebrate coming close, don’t you think?

Does this pressure resonate with anyone besides me?  How can we, as educators, come to grips with the idea of a job well done, when “a job well done” inevitably includes failures in the form of children who we just didn’t wouldn’t decided not to couldn’t reach?

(Image credit:  Fail by Nimbu, licensed Creative Commons:  Attribution)

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