Teen Tuesday – Fear of Failure
This year my group of freshman seem particularly shy and non-participatory. I mean, they’re always that way to an extent at the beginning of the year. But after 2 weeks, I normally start seeing more active participation when I ask questions, for volunteers, to come to the board, or to share something. This year, especially with one of my afternoon classes, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to even talk. Weird, right? You’d think they’d be non-stop talkers.
So, the other day I decided to take a quick survey in 2 of my more non-talkative classes. I had in my head a few different theories on why they may not be participating, but I wanted to see what truly was the problem so I could help them. It simply said:
- When the teacher asks questions in class or asks for volunteers to give answers or do something on the board, the biggest reason I don’t participate is…
- I am shy or self-conscious and don’t like to speak in front of others.
- I am afraid I’m wrong and don’t want to be told I’m wrong.
- I am just being lazy.
- I don’t care to participate. School isn’t that important to me.
- I really just don’t know the answer.
I let them choose two reasons. Want to know the results? The number 1 reason was the second option – essentially “fear of failure.”
I feel like in a society where parents coddle and rescue their children from birth, preventing them from making any mistakes or at least from feeling the consequences, where they fail to discipline their children to show they’ve done wrong, where coaches let everyone play and “everyone wins,” where the closest thing to failure they usually have to face is dying in a video game where they’ll simply come back to life…what should I have expected? They’ve never been allowed to experience real failure, so they’re afraid of it. Don’t we fear the unknown? The more we, as children, experienced failure, whether the consequences were mild or harsh, the more familiar it became and less scary. We knew it wasn’t so bad, so we weren’t as afraid to put ourselves out their and at least try. The worst that could happen is we would mess up, learn from it, and try again. Our kids need to know this truth by experiencing failure just like we did. Sheltering them only hurts them in the long run.
I had a talk with my classes after looking at the results and did my best to reassure them that everyone makes mistakes and no one knows all the answers. I told them if they give a wrong answer, know that they are not the only ones who didn’t know the right one. I even told them the deep dark secret that even teachers, including me, don’t know everything. 🙂 I did and am doing my best to create a safe environment where they can openly make mistakes as a natural part of learning without fear of me or other students making fun of them or thinking badly of them.
By the way, the second reason (a pretty close second) was similar – “being shy or self-conscious.” I have a theory on this one too. You know those social media sites kids seem to be addicted to and those phones they can’t seem to pry their fingers from? There have been many studies and articles about the resulting social damage from kids spending too much time with this kind of social technology. Sure, they’re being social. But they’re losing the familiarity and perhaps even the ability to socialize in person, face to face. Once again, the unknown becomes scary. Actually speaking in front of people, maybe even a small group, seems daunting and unfamiliar since they are so used to hiding behind a computer or phone.
I gave my classes a similar speech about how my class was a safe environment for them to practice their social skills and work at not being so shy. I told them they’d get over it eventually.
Now I at least know that I’m going to have to work in a lot of extra participation time and social/group-work time. After all, practice makes perfect!