Because we care.
This is why it touches our heart to see our students upset or crestfallen. This is why when they bomb a math test or bury their head in their arms over another behavior regression, we seek to soften the blow.
We engage them to talk it out, to see the silver lining, to put it in their rear-view mirror. We tell them that it’s going to be okay, that we all make mistakes, and that it wasn’t such a big deal after all.
We’ve become so conditioned to easing the burden that it has become part and parcel to the job. It’s expected, which is why you see teachers all over campus, in and out of the classroom, huddled with students, lifting chins, assuaging guilt, and making it all better.
We tell our students what they should think and how they should feel. We downplay their downfalls. We frame in the most positive light.
But in doing so, critical life lessons are lost.
The truth is, our students are far better off when allowed to experience their mistakes, failures, and defeats. They’re better off when left to stew, to ponder where they went wrong, and to gain strength from their disappointment.
You see, when we ease their burden, when we redefine for them their failure to prepare for the test, to learn the material, to follow the rules, to listen to the instructions, to treat others with respect . . . lessons are never learned. And the same mistakes are repeated over and over again.
We do our students a disservice by interfering with the normal, human, and energy-producing powers of regret. We snatch away their creativity. We weaken their determination. We undermine their ability to overcome obstacles.
We owe it to our students not to minimize failure, but to allow them to feel it. For these feelings, these churning, sinking, aching feelings of disappointment are the impetus they need to learn from their mistakes.
They are what cause them to say, “No more, never again!”
To help your students grow in character, maturity, and independence, to help them improve their behavior, motivate their work habits, and encourage healthy self-reflection, you have to allow them to experience failure.
You have to expose them to the truth of where they are, both behaviorally and academically, in order for them to climb their way out.
A meaningless ‘C’ when they deserve an ‘F’ is not only dishonest, but it’s harmful. And so is telling them how well they’re doing when in fact they’re not doing well at all.
This doesn’t mean you’ll withhold praise or swallow your desire to encourage. It only means that you’ll offer your words artfully, based on the truth, and after your students are granted the dignity to know and experience when they have failed.
Now is the time, when they’re young and impressionable, to learn the lessons that will save them from great and future hardship. Now is the time to fail spectacularly, to learn from their mistakes, and to grow strong and resilient.
Now is the time, when the stakes are low, to build the fortitude needed to overcome that closed door, that letter of rejection, that loss of job. For every time you soften the blow or mask the truth, you make their future murkier and more difficult.
Amid the backdrop of a celebrity culture run amok, amid the bombardment of both a warped view of success and an undersell of what it takes to succeed, they need you now more than ever.
They need the truth now more than ever. They need kind and faithful accountability now more than ever. They need your gentle touch, your honest words, and your willingness to allow for private self-reflection.
They need to experience failure now, in the safety of your loving guidance, so that it doesn’t crush them in the future.
So that instead, they’ll rise to their own two feet, face the inevitable disappointments to come with grace and determination, and blossom into compassionate, contributing citizens of the world.
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