I started my teaching career with the notion that none of my students would fail. You see, during college I had written a term paper on "Failure in the Classroom" and was convinced that if I was good enough and clever enough and devoted enough and worked hard enough then ALL my students would be successful. Boy was I ever disappointed! About November of my first year I realized that all those theories I had read about just weren't working for everyone. No matter what I did there were one or two students who consistently got "F's". During a regular review meeting with my Principal I shared my concerns - his answer? You can't save them all! He assured me that, for reasons that may be beyond my control and despite my best efforts there will likely be a few students who will end up earning an "F". And he was right - especially about the "earning" part. I realized that I don't "give" grades - students earn them.
Please don't get the idea that I ever give up on a student - I am pretty good at finding alternative instructional methods to try to help students with varying learning styles and abilities - and generally find that any student who at least meets me halfway will find success. These days technology has really helped as I can record lecture reviews or create tutorials and post them online for students to review anytime they want. I have created electronic flashcards as well as shown students how to make "old school" style flash cards. We've played games in class, used peer review, created charts and graphs. We use Google docs for online collaboration to encourage students to develop skill in working together online. I even use collaborative testing in a few classes where students work as a team to complete an exam - which works GREAT by the way!
So while we can't save them all we have lots of life preservers to throw out - they just have to grab for for it so that we can pull them to success.
I have sat in on meetings with faculty from other departments and listened to them bemoan the quality or should I say lack of quality among their students - the students can't do the work, they aren't motivated, they don't want to learn - on and on they go. This kind of ranting just amazes me - to me this is what teaching is all about - finding ways to reach and motivate students. As the saying goes, "if it was easy, anyone could do it". I teach, not because I can't do other things, but because this is my passion. In fact my favorite students (yes I love them all but still have favorites) are those I call my "diamonds in the rough" - the young girls and guys who love hands on stuff but need a lot of motivation to apply themselves academically. They tend to be bright but they hate to show it, are quick to understand but slow to admit it - but boy do they shine with a little polish - once they have a little success! So I have learned to not be quick to dismiss a student, to assume they can't succeed - everybody gets a chance - and often more than one.