March 9, 2015 by Dr. Robbie Barber
I have seen in the past month, no less than 100 messages encouraging teachers to fail – to model failure to students. I have seen no less than 200 messages with clever slogans like “I have failed over and over again. And that is why I succeed” (Michael Jordan). But when you look failure in the eye, what does it actually feel like?
Here’s my story of a recent failure.
On Friday mornings, I offer #TicklingTech sessions to interested teachers. Come for 15 minutes of instruction, then stay for 15 min. of individualized help – or leave – but eat first. The topics range on anything dealing with technology in the classroom. And, as the year has progressed, I am receiving more requests for teaching on a topic. So a teacher had heard that you could do self-grading quizzes using Google forms. But she had no idea how. Would I find out and teach her? Yes, we had a topic for a #TicklingTech session. I researched how to. I spent two hours practicing, failing, trying again, picking perferences, and planning a 15 min. demo. I decided I would update the website after the session, when I had feedback on things that interested the participants. You can do self-grading quizzes using Google forms, but it’s complicated. Especially for my teachers that may need a little more hand-holding. So it’s good to get feedback.
Friday morning came and we had a “snow” day. Fine. I’d try the following Tuesday after school for a change of pace. Except I wasn’t feeling well. Another Friday came and we had a conflict. Three weeks after I’d practice and planned for my class, three teachers showed up, one of whom was new and coming for just this subject and I started my class.
And nothing worked. The public templates I were using were NOT located in my Google drive any longer. Google had moved them. It is really hard to recover in a short class (15 minutes) from an egregious error. What does failure feel like? A punch to the gut. It’s hard to stand there and not want to start crying. I had done the work. I had prepared. I had even used some of the three week wait time to add the webpage. BUT I could not show the work.
What did I do? I had done practice runs so I started by saying “here’s the end result”. I explained that the grades would end up in a spreadsheet. That I highly recommended tracking last name, first name and periods because once it was in a spreadsheet, you could sort on the information. I talked about editing the forms for your own questions and limiting yourself to multiple guess or true/false. I promised to send directions as soon as I figured out what went wrong.
I didn’t whine, but I was defensive. I spent more time explaining all the practice I had done than I should have. I tried to smile and even joke, while I felt like this failure would define all of my teaching this year. It didn’t to anyone BUT me. I felt sick to my stomach and a little depressed. I berated myself that I should have checked again. I went over my materials. I stressed. But I kept talking till time was up.
I sent the link to the Tickling Tech website with the up-to-date information:
Finale: The following Friday was the next planned day to show how to do the self-grading quizzes (5th time is the charm). BUT, we spent Thursday without internet in the school. Thursday evening was Parent Conferences so I had to stay at school when the Internet came up. I practiced again. Then, I decided to record my screen and do a full run through. It worked. Friday morning came and there was NO internet. But I had 8 people show up and ran the video while giving the verbal explanations. The edited video with my voiceovers will be on the website by next week.