Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Failure Is Not An Option

Or is it?
When does failure become an option, a reality?
Wars are lost, soldiers surrender, the game gets out of hand, seems like no matter what you do, the goal is out of reach.
Okay, I don't want this to be a downer, but it sort of is.
Maybe more like a reality check.
Which I had today when I was sitting in my car during lunch.
Half my day is spent at the last chance Texaco.
You know the one, far out in the middle of nowhere, gas tank a quarter full and you don't know when you're getting another chance to fill up.
Fuel might be a bit more expensive there, but really, where else you gonna go?
Where else are they gonna go?
These students I work with, mostly freshmen, are at their last stop.
Well, not the last stop, so let's call it a transition area.
Tracked for diploma, meaning they have the ability to earn a high school diploma, this is where they are supposed to learn some, well, learning skills, so that they may rejoin their peers in the regular classroom.
That is the goal anyways.
For the last couple of months or so, that was my goal too.
To get them going again, restarting their educational journey.
In teacher school, they load you up with all kinds of heart warming, fuzzy stories about how kids are turned around, how this strategy and that strategy is used to make diamonds out of coal.
Okay, maybe that's the wrong metaphor for I don't think you are supposed to pressure them.
Get it? Diamonds?
Well today at lunch, I was thinking about what I go through every day and it suddenly dawned on me.
Graduation rate at the school I work at is about seventy five percent.
One out of four freshmen don't make it.
That's the fact Jack.
I work with that twenty five percent.
The 25ers.
Boy, I got sort of depressed.
Talk about spinning my wheels!
Then came the paradigm shift.
See in the regular classroom, you worry about losing one or two, you try not to let anyone fall between the cracks.
At the same time, you expect a certain amount of success.
In my world, I realized that I have to expect failure.
Working with the 25ers, I can't expect to save them all.
Or maybe even the one.
Now this doesn't mean I've giving up.
Oh no, not me.
I mean this is the profession I have chosen, maybe not the job, but the profession, and as a professional I'm paid to deliver a service.
Regardless of failure or success.
It's all about the kids.
I'll tell you though, changing my way of thinking has helped to ease some of the everyday stress.
The behavior I see each day will no longer surprise me. Now that I see things from a different angle, I can attack the problem anew and devise different strategies that may be more effective.
I will lose some of these kids, so what can I do to try and help the ones who decide to stay?
Part of the problem is that in teacher school, they don't tell you about the failures.
Too depressing I guess.
Don't want to bum folks out before they even get started.
On the other hand, it's a reality.
Some of these kids just won't make it.
For whatever reason it's just not going to happen.
It's sad, but it's true.
Fortunately/unfortunately, I get to work with these kids and the only way to hold onto your own sense of well being is to be pragmatic about it.
I can only hope this change in attitude and latitude has a positive effect.
On both me and the students.
I mean failure is not an option.
It's a reality.


John Romeo Alpha said...

Be inspirational and thick-skinned, and you'll reach a few of them. By being who you are and doing what you do, you'll show them something they don't see much of, and that will get through to some of them. The sad but matter-of-fact truth is that by this age, they have to learn to take some responsibility for their actions, their decisions, and their own minds. Not sure if that is teachable by the time they get here. But you might see glimpses of it, and that could be worth nurturing. Trying and not succeeding is not the equivalent of failure in this situation, to me, and you never know what positive effect you might have years later, even for the non-graduates.

limom said...

Thanks for the kind words JRA, they are appreciated.
I often think of the long term effects of what we do, unfortunately, it's difficult to cash in on future gains.
These kids need to start making a move now, time is running out.
As you say, despite the challenges we face, there are glimpses of what can be.
Those little things do help.