Thoughts on success and failure: inspired by GCSE results day.

It’s gcse results day today and it’s not the key results day for me this year. I just had a year with no year 11 teaching, but did have a year 10 dual award science group who took one gcse at the end of year 10.

It was fairly stressful fitting in all the teaching and it was uncertain how results day would go. I’m pleased to report that most of the group will be happy with their result today. I’m not going to get into any detailed results analysis here, but it has got me thinking about success and failure. More specifically about how my own experience of success and failure helps me be a better teacher.

Sorry if this is a bit of a ramble. It’s the summer holidays and I’m mainly spending time relaxing and letting myself think. I’m mentally planning how to be a better teacher next year. I’m concerned with how to improve and do better for my students. So this is going to be a more reflective blog post. I intend to make it much more about the practicalities of physics teaching as we start the new academic year.

It’s inevitable that my own experiences will influence my teaching. We all have personal relationships with our own learning and have probably had success and failures at different stages.

I feel like I never met with a real sense of failure until my viva for my degree. That was the day I learnt I don’t think, or come across well, under intense pressure. D’oh! I was the nearest student to the grade boundary to be interviewed that day, and the only one who didn’t get put up. I have to take pride in the fact that I didn’t cry until I’d left the room. I knew I hadn’t given them a single bit of evidence that I knew any physics, never mind that I deserved the tiny extra bit of a percentage to push me up to a first. Terrible timing for discovering these things about myself.

My mum really helped me on my degree results day. She said if I’d got a first there would be a weight of expectation on me, that I wouldn’t quite have with a 2:1. So having a 2:1 would serve me better. People wouldn’t expect so much and then I could surprise them. It’s probably BS, but it sure made me feel better!

As well as learning some deeply personal things about myself at that time, I learnt the power of a few kind words. My mums words gave me something positive to focus on and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

Well that was a bit of a dramatic example. On a day to day basis I don’t expect I could have that much impact on my pupils. I aspire to always have the right words when a pupil is facing a feeling of failure. I hope to say things that make them feel better and hopefully lead them to do better next time, or be able to see how to move on positively. Ultimately, I try to view how they are feeling and be mindful that my words can have an impact. I try not to say things carelessly.

I have personal experience of when a teacher said something careless that stayed with me. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but it does stay with me as a very strong memory. We are back at GCSE results day! But mine in 1996 (OMG!). I had done very well. My results were one of the best the school got on the day. A teacher came over to congratulate me and told me that in discussions about the results earlier in the day some teachers had no idea who I was. Some taught me during year 11! I was quiet, but bloody hell!

It’s much nicer dealing with success, but I’m a stronger person for having to deal with failure. It’s given me greater empathy and I do think that helps me as a teacher. Now someone just needs to help me understand how someone can’t just get how to do maths… (jk)

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