Another Failure, Another Lesson Learned

It’s Midterm season.  The time of the semester when stresses spike and schedules get busier and Red Bull records record profits.  As a grad student, this is not a favorite season.  In fact, given the option, I would skip it altogether.  But, my efforts to convince the world that tests are not the true measure of a student have gone unnoticed, so I show up with the rest and wrack my brain trying to prove that I know what I am talking about.

Yesterday, I failed.  Now, the actual grade may not be an “F”, but I know that I totally blew one problem.  I know exactly the idiotic mistake I made and spent most of the afternoon kicking myself for it.  I hate making stupid mistakes.  I am an engineer, dammit, and have been for a lot of years.  I should be above such things.  I should have the material so ingrained by now that it is automatic.  But, no, in the test environment, though I had it right, I second-guessed myself and changed my train of thought into a more flawed path.  And in so doing, I totally blew the problem.  It will cost me a lot, grade-wise, as a similar total brain fart did in my first semester here.

Yet… the mistake I made over a year ago is one that I will never make again.  It is still a sore spot, as it cost me a perfectly good grade in the course.  I have a feeling that the one I made yesterday I will never make again, though I don’t know its ultimate cost yet.  In every failure, we have the opportunity to learn.  We can channel these negative consequences into a lesson that will always be remembered.

As a professor, I will be in the position to decide the consequence of my students making mistakes.  Were I to comfort them and tell them it won’t hurt them, I would be doing them a disservice.  Were I to make them pay a high price for a momentary lapse in engineering judgement, they certainly would learn more in the long run.  But as I feel my own kicking, can I come to grips with knowing that my own students will be doing the same in their scholastic careers?  It is tough to think about right now.  But, in the end, I stand by my basic mantra:  Failure is Good.

About rainman

CEE SEM MS ’12 PhD ’15
ESM BS ’92
SUC ’89-’92
PE VA, TN, KY, WV, PA

Category(s): Failure, Teaching Philosophy

One Response to Another Failure, Another Lesson Learned

  1. This is where I get frustrated too. Learn from your mistakes and move on. However, you get two types of students when it comes to making mistakes that are very counterproductive.

    Type 1: They are so afraid of making a mistake in the first place, they don’t try very hard or challenge themselves. Yes, making a mistake sucks and can hurt your grade, but if you’re not challenging yourself either with a more difficult class or assignment, you’re also not allowing yourself the opportunity to reach your full potential or learn more.

    Type 2: They don’t care/think they’re right anyways/some other reason that causes them to continue to make the same mistake again and again and again. I see it quite often in student work where I feel like they don’t even bother to look at why they lost points on a problem and my comments. I take my own personal time to leave feedback and comments, but if some students see a 70, they’re content and don’t care why they missed those points.

    I think part of the problem we need to “combat” as professors, are these two types of students when it comes to encouraging them to learn from their mistakes.

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