What does it mean to fail?

Lately, I have been asking myself what it means to fail. Have I failed my students if they struggle in class? Have I failed them if they aren’t interested in my class? Have I failed them if they aren’t prepared to deal with the “real world”?

Our school’s philosophy for our students is to “get real world ready, ” but lately I have been asking myself what that means in relation to education and inclusion. So many think your high school diploma is your mark of success. Our success as educators is directly tied to their ability to achieve a standard set by the government.

If that is the measure we are going to choose, then I would like to introduce myself as a failure. I do not have a high school diploma. I am okay with that. I figured out my own path to get into university and did better than if I had been forced to take the class I was missing from my graduation requirements.

Better yet, I was also required to withdraw from university. Yep! I learned a lot from that experience, however. I learned the kinds of classes I was suited to best learn from, how to study, and more importantly when to admit it wasn’t something I was good at. The amount of Ws on my transcript will prove that I am definitely not successful at memorizing theory but when given the opportunity to make something tangible, I excelled.

Fast forward to now. I am not the best teacher in the world, but I’m a great teacher because I am aware of my strengths but more importantly my weaknesses. I can teach my kids how to recognize and build off theirs but there comes the point I am forced to face the fact that despite ability, goal, and strengths of students sometimes as professionals, teachers forget that there are more options than a traditional path to a high school diploma to get them where they need to go.

Real world ready for me involved learning to fail, learning to figure out a solution and most importantly, learning to accept who I am and what I am capable of doing. A lesson I have learned over again this year. I have high expectations of myself. Rarely have I met them this year.

Others may see my achievements this year as success, growth, and perseverance. I see them a stack of “fails” that I have built off of to find a solution that is currently working – maybe not the way I intended when I set my goal/expectation.

I challenge my colleagues to look at a path that works for students, that celebrates them as learners and gives them the tools they need to see success at their own level, not if they can graduate or not. If they find success their own way, let’s build around that. Not 3 years of learning and a piece of paper but a way that gives them the opportunity to become real world ready. Be it more than 3 years, courses and opportunities outside of school, the ability to fail, repeat and learn, or even just the opportunity to say “this isn’t for me, how can I show my knowledge in a way that will prove my understanding?”


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