Our children deserve to experience failure, and we as parents need to get over our discomfort in letting them.

I have been an educator for nine full years now. When I resume school in the fall, I will be starting my tenth year in the profession.

I started teaching when I was 24, fresh out of a Master’s program and moon-eyed to mold those sweet adolescent brains. I had always been an educator at heart, going out of my way to help classmates, tutor, edit papers, the gamut, so it’s natural that I ended up having it for my career.

But man, if there is not some total fucking bullshit when it comes to being a teacher today.

The last day of school for the students at my school was May 23rd, so school has technically been out six business days. 

Last night, on a Sunday, I received an e-mail from a parent. The student received an 89.4% for the semester. If she had received an 89.45% or above, she would have gotten an A for the semester, but she didn’t. She made a 70% on her last test, which kept her roundly in the B category. She also, to be noted, would have made a B for the entire year unless she’d made a 95% or above her second semester because she had made an 83% her first semester. 

What the parent sent was essentially this:

My daughter has been working with tutors and getting other outside help this entire year. Because she did not get an A, the message she is taking away from this is that hard work is not rewarded. We want to ensure the appropriate message is being sent to our daughter by her teachers.

So, here it is, the #1 reason why I hate teaching, in this, my nearly decade of teaching:

People want hard work to equal a pay-off, and if it’s not the pay-off they wanted, they demand they be given it anyway. 

In my line of work, parents are customers, and they are always right, so if I didn’t give in, the parent would escalate it to the administration and then the administration would push me to give in. It’s exhausting and, frankly, against my moral code. 

Numbers are numbers. They simply don’t lie. An 89.4% does not equal an 89.45% or above.

Little people who are taught that hard work should equal a pay-off are being pushed out into a world that doesn’t think that way. 

Regardless of how much work you put in, you are not guaranteed anything in this crazy crazy life. You can spend hours on a killer presentation and still not nab that client. You can run the clock up, stay late, stay over, and still miss out on that promotion. You can still flub your winning defense argument in the courtroom. You can still fail that class or lose that game or not get that guy or girl.

Life is a crapshoot or a box of chocolates or whatever metaphor you want to use. We have no guarantee that our hard work will pay off the way WE want it to, and we are not entitled to whatever we think we deserve because of that hard work. 

I sound bitter, and I am. It might be the school I teach at or the fact that I’m far past being moon-eyed and am now more like a jaded veteran. But I’ve taught at two K-12 schools and one university in these last nine years, and I encountered this same problem at every institution: I put so much work in. Why is my grade what it is? And then, if I gave them the litany of why (test grades, averages, not taking advantage of test correction or extra credit opportunities), the student or parent would escalate it and I’d eventually receive an e-mail or have a meeting with an administrator or dean who would say to me, “You just need to change it.” 

I have two children myself. They aren’t yet even in kindergarten, but I think about them a lot and what I want for them. 

The hardest thing any parent has to learn is how to comfort their child through their disappointment, to remind them that they are loved and all right even if they failed, even if they tried their fucking hardest and didn’t get what they wanted. 

Our children deserve to experience failure, and we as parents need to get over our discomfort in letting them. 

I didn’t make cheer squad. I didn’t even place at the state swimming finals. I didn’t get the grades I wanted. I got dumped. My parents never stepped in and called the couch or my teacher or the boy and demand I get it anyway. They gave me a hug and said, “I’m sorry you’re disappointed. You just need to not give up.”

Those early failures prepared me for very real failures later in life: I’ve been fired or laid off from jobs. I didn’t get the raise I asked for or land jobs or promotions I was convinced I’d get. My marriage imploded. I didn’t give up and ask my parents to fix it. I picked myself up and kept going. 

I think a lot about faith and meaning and purpose as an educator. 

I have attended students’ funerals — drug overdoses, victims of drunk driving incidents — and watched fathers collapse with their grief. One literally wailed one word over and over again through the entire service, “Why?” I spent the entire service helplessly weeping, feeling the harsh angles of that word roll through my own body. Why, really, why? WHY would such a terrible thing happen?

There’s no good answer. 

We try our hardest in this life, and shit just sometimes happens. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe it’s possible to explain that a death or a job loss or a divorce happened to cause _________. Sometimes life is just terrible. 

But I do believe it’s possible to find a purpose or meaning in what terrible things have already happened or await us all, and to keep going regardless, if not to show we lived through it and can help someone else. 

So when our children fail, we need to let them. 

The hurt they feel over getting a grade they didn’t want is small, manageable, even forgettable, compared to the hurts they’ll face later in life. They need to know how to feel it and move through it. They need to know they’ll be okay, just as long as they keep going and don’t give up. 


Tara Blair Ball is a memoirist and freelance writer. Check out her website or find her on Twitter.
Tara Blair Ball is a memoirist and freelance writer. Check out her website or find her on Twitter.

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