What Failure Feels Like

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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:

Self-Grading Quizzes with Google Forms

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.

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