Number Thirteen – Help Them Reflect On Their Failures – The 30 Goals Challenge

Maths... (Image taken from

Maths was one of those subjects that I was not particularly fond of, but didn’t dislike either. Perhaps I favoured Geometry much more and Algebra less. I was pretty good at it. Or so I thought.

I was a freshman in high school and had a new maths teacher who was constantly challenging us with interesting stuff and I liked that. Until we had our first major test and…I did not do well at all. I was a bit disappointed when I got my paper back but thought that next time I should try a bit harder and check where my weaknesses were. What totally shot me down was my teacher’s comment after class. “Well”, he said, “you saw your test result. We are not all mathematical geniuses and you are well…more of a language person and I don’t think you’ll ever be good at maths, like some other kids. That’s life.”

With this short comment, this person completely shot down my interest in the subject and more importantly, my self-esteem. He did not even sit with me for one minute to explain where I had not done well, what could have been the cause and so on. His comment just translated for me that no matter how hard I tried, I was going to achieve nothing.

Of course after I graduated and became a teacher, some of my students had this same teacher who did it to some of them as well. It made me wonder: this person was working in schools, with kids who had dreams, thinking he was teaching (well he may have given them his knowledge daily in class), but was he missing the point or what: kids are going to fail for some reason or another. Perhaps they do not study as much. Perhaps it was a bad day – they might be students whose stress takes over them and who can perform well in those circumstances? Maybe they have a learning disability which hinders them from performing as well as they would like to and with some help could do wonders.

We can help kids reflect on their failures - by motivating them constantly, they will try to do better next time and always learn! (Image from

What students need is constant encouragement and motivation. Does a failure define them as personalities or the rest of their lives? We should see it as an opportunity to teach them much more than the subject itself.

I have written about this before in a post on Goal Number Two. There you can read about one of my students I had in Greece who is really brave and faced his failure by trying even harder, even though he was disappointed at first.

I am positive and confident there are a lot of educators who constantly encourage their students and help them overcome failures. Congratulations to all of you and keep up the excellent work!


10 thoughts on “Number Thirteen – Help Them Reflect On Their Failures – The 30 Goals Challenge

  1. I had a teacher who told me I’d be lucky to get a C at GCSE biology and predicted me an E, I think it was. So I showed her by getting A! (Thanks to Mum’s tutoring, the teacher was crap!)

    There’s that old adage, whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. Self-belief is such an important thing. We should definitely NOT be taking it away from our students.

    I had mine writing poetry in class the other day, they started the lesson convinced they’d never be able to write poetry in English (thought I was crazy for suggesting it) but actually they all could! We did simple diamonte poems, which I let them use it freely first (on a theme I’d inputted on with brainstorming and a story), then stipulated types of words (noun, adjective, –ing verb) for most of the gaps. Then they made some more. And voila! Poetry! They then went to to apply it to self-chosen themes and then about themselves. Some lovely stuff came out.

    Anyway the point of all that was, show them they can rather than tell them they can’t! 🙂

    Great post!


    1. Hi Lizzie!

      Thank you for your comment – for sharing your personal experience as a student (and good job on trying hard and not giving up!) and as a teacher. I absolutely love poetry in class, I think it is very creative to have students try and write and good on you for encouraging them. And for weaving it into a great lesson!

      I love what you said about self-belief – I agree 100%

      Many thanks again and congratulations on your excellent work with your students.

      Kindest regards, Vicky

  2. I can hardly believe a teacher would say something like that to a student! I’ve read about that sort of depressing, accept-your-lot-in-life comment from teachers on people’s blogs more than I’d like to admit, unfortunately. It just seems so old skool–and I mean 1950s old skool.

    I agree with all you’ve said. It’s important to teach students how not to become deflated with lackluster results, but reflect on them and consider, with encouragement, how to achieve what they want.

    1. Hi Tyson!

      Thank you for your comment.

      Unfortunately, this person who calls himself an educator (I think he is a pensioner now but still tutors kids) said it and not to myself only, but to others as well. Very traumatising for such young ages and yes, I agree, so old school.

      The thing that gives me hope is to see so many educators around the world like you and many others, who do excellent work with their students and constantly encourage and help them!

      Thanks, Vicky

      1. Glad to hear you keep hope. I do constantly have to keep reminding myself that the students’ goals are ahead of my own. That’s not always an easy thing to accept and therefore my reactions sometimes need to be tempered.

        So how’s your hope with Math these days? 😉

      2. Hi Tyson!

        I know what you mean and it happens to all of us.

        Maths? Much better, I sometimes help out the kiddos at the primary I work at part-time …but would love to look at Maths again as a subject some day. But then again, I would love to learn German really well, Turkish, Finnish and improve my French, do a Master’s and later on a PhD…learn to drive (yeah, I know, 32 and don’t have a license!) and so on. I hope I will do at least one of all these and well enough!

        Thanks for your comment, Vicky

  3. Vicky!
    As usual you presented the case so well – that is NOT the way a teacher should talk to students!
    I read your post in the morning before school and thought about it while proctoring exams at the high-school.
    I feel I must point out a REALLY REALLY fine line the teacher has to be careful about in regards to reflection.
    At least in high-school, it IS important to reflect to the students where he/she stands in regards to the “leaving requirements” (here it’s called matriculation) of that country. It is simply amazing how some students get a poor grade on an exam yet do NOT see it as reflecting their chances to do well on the finals in any way! Teenagers are poor judges of time left in a school year!
    To get back to the math example! I’ve always had trouble with math but in 10th grade had particular problems. My teachers sat with my parents and I and recommended studying biology since taking that subject counts as a scientifc subject even if one fails math. I refused (did not like biology then) but understood what was at stake and really focused my efforts. Succeeded too! But that talk WAS a turning point.
    What you described WASN’T a quiet talk – just a hurtful comment!

    1. Hi Naomi!

      Thank you so much for your insightful (as always) comment.

      I really appreciate your personal experience with the kids – you are absolutely right. And good on you for pointing that out for the kids, especially the exam-taking ones – they tend to see failure in an exam before the major ones as the end of the world and refuse to keep up their efforts.

      Thank you for also sharing your own story (that subject maths, giving lots of people a hard time!) – super that you did not give up and congratulations to you on your perseverance and success!!!

      You are a great teacher Naomi. I admire you so much and I think that your students are very fortunate to have you as their teacher and guide!

      Many many thanks, Vicky

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