Here’s an email I sent to my college English students yesterday, and I thought I’d share it through my blog.
I have SOOO immensely enjoyed reading your introductions. In fact, I’ve made myself a little cheat sheet with notes about each one of you! (No, I’m not a stalker, but within the art of teaching, it sure helps to know a little bit about your students as well as what they are juggling!)
One recurring theme that keeps popping up within the introductions is the fear of failure. I just want to shout it from the rooftops, DO NOT FEAR FAILURE!!! EVERYONE fails! It's how you respond to failure that separates the successful ones from the UNsuccessful ones. Here’s a personal story.
In working on my doctorate degree, I had to complete 60 credit hours of coursework in education, over and above my two master’s degrees. Each master’s degree entailed 36 hours of coursework. I also have a couple of educational certifications (Library media specialist, 24 hours and special education, 24 hours) for which I do not have degrees.
So, by the time I completed the coursework for my Ed.D., I had amassed a whopping total of 180 hours of graduate work in literature and education. (I told you I had been going to school forever!) Having 180 hours’ worth of graduate work is ridiculous. (It’s quite stupid, actually. No one is going to pay you more for having two master’s degrees!) Nevertheless, that’s what I’ve got and most people would look at that and say, “Hmmm, she’s got enough education to know what she’s talking about.”
Well, here’s the point of my story. When I finally finished all of the coursework for my doctorate, I had to take something called a comprehensive exam at Liberty University. This was to be a timed exam consisting of 6 essay questions. I was to take the information I had learned in the 60 hours of coursework (they weren’t holding me accountable for all the Longwood and Marshall University hours) and answer THREE of the SIX questions. Three questions. Six hours. Open book. Piece of cake. Right?
WRONG!! To make a long story short, I completely bombed the test. I got the essays back via email and they had rubrics attached to them. There were comments (like the ones you’ll receive from me on your essays) scattered amongst the margins of my paper. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Liberty University is a Christian university. The professors are Christians, which means that they SHOULD exude kindness and patience. Well, I guess that my three essays were so bad that those professors FORGOT they were Christians because I received some of the harshest, downright mean/cruel feedback I have ever seen in my life. To make matters worse, I knew that at least THREE professors had graded it. And ALL THREE agreed in their stinging assessment of my essays.
There were three questions. I had to pass all three. If I failed a couple and then passed one, then I would simply have to re-take the sections that I had failed. Easy enough. Right?
WRONG!!! I failed ALL three questions! I not only failed them, I BOMBED them! According to the rubrics, to receive a passing grade, I had to accumulate a score of 10 (with 25 being the highest score possible) on each question. My highest question received a 5 and my lowest question received a 2. Yep, I had bombed it.
As I sat in my office and read that email and accompanying attachment back at the end of last September (2011), I just cried. I had to quickly pull it together, though, because I had a group of kindergarteners coming in that I had to read a story to. So, I pulled myself together, wiped my eyes, and went out there and gave the best “reading performance” I’ve ever given!
And then I returned to my office. And I cried. And I cried some more.
Then my friend (the assistant principal of the school; we were right in the same place with our doctorates) came in, singing her own Hallelujah song because she had just received an email that she had passed her comps. Now, you talk about pouring salt in someone’s wounds! But I told her how happy I was for her and how I was going to use this experience to “become the person that OTHER people come to when THEY need a shoulder to cry on.” I told her, “I want to be that person who encourages others to keep going when they hit a roadblock because I know that I can do this!”
So, I signed back up for the test, printed off my exam and feedback (a paper that literally looked like someone had bled to death on, with all the awful comments!), and set off to improving my answers. I retook that exam at the end of November. This time I passed. In the nine months that have passed since this experience, I have been able to share my “Study for Liberty’s Education Comps Exam” notes with 4-5 other folks, ALL who have passed their tests with flying colors.
The moral of the story? Failure hurts. Absolutely. Failure does NOT kill. It only makes you stronger. More determined. More motivated.
Don’t fear failure. Fear unwillingness to try.