How Challenge and Failure Coexist in a Classroom and Make Our World Better?

As a teacher, we look at the word “challenge” through so many different lenses that it is hard to clearly define what failure is and is NOT in education. Some argue that you have to fail to learn, but any parent who has watched the soul of a sweet child crushed before their eyes when they witness the heartache of “not getting it right” over and over again might disagree. The implications of failure are far deeper than just an opportunity for learning or a challenging lesson that is received.


So how do parents weigh in when a teacher is rejecting the idea of failure, or in fact, celebrating a child that has not only failed at something but in fact, gained knowledge while doing so? Is challenge a sign of failure or a sign of learning? For generations, parents have frowned, punished and issued consequences for failing grades. In the last decade or so, the shift in grading has also shifted our thinking in passing, failing and mastering lessons in the classroom. The term “proficient” has been coined to casually imply that the child can understand and use most of the content. The phrase “College and Career Ready” is a step above proficient and its wordiness is enough to get parents buzzing about what their child’s educational goals may implore in the near future.

With the shift in mindset, grading, testing, and academic competition, there is a newly vocal group of parents expressing the need to authentically challenge their children. These parents truly want their children to be engaged in learning that is meaningful and asks youngsters to solve their own problems. The curriculum, test preparation, and textbooks are disconnected from the skill set that a young adult needs to be “College and Career Ready.” In the last two years, I have worked with parents of six, seven and eight-year-olds that are explicit in asking me, as the teacher,  to make things uncomfortable for their children when learning. Their motive is to ensure that their child not only knows what it feels like to make mistakes, challenge ideas and question presentation, but also how to solve their own problems when they do fail. They have repeatedly said that they want their child to feel “challenged.”  This idea is much different from telling a child that they did not spell a word correctly or followed the steps to a math equation incorrectly.


A challenging teacher springs inquiry. This teacher develops not only the questions that go beyond the surface to foster engagement but the questions that don’t have answers.  When teachers ask children challenging questions,  “I don’t know” is no longer an option for a response. Instead of yes, no, true or false, teachers probe with “why” or “why not” and the problem-solving unravels.

Parents want their children to question and problem-solve because it fosters independence, as well as open-mindedness. Our world is not one dimensioned, and neither should our education system. Technology integration has stupefied learning and parents don’t have the time or energy to enhance the minutes lost in a classroom where the child is showing proficiency, but capable of so much more. By pushing children, allowing them to fail and then helping them problem solve towards their own successes and answers, we move past proficient and onto a skill set that is needed for careers, parenthood and beyond. Google can give a one-line answer with YouTube video supports and visual aids, but what happens when we lose the WI-fi signal?

In our next set of college and career prep courses, students will have to be reconstructors and innovators. This generation is counting on the incoming to help solve technology problems today that they couldn’t have predicted by anyone twenty years ago. This gives the teaching job another unique dimension, but it also allows education to redefine failure, growth, and learning in a world that badly needs refining of all these factors as we walk today.  Parents are being challenged to problem solve on their own, they now want to plant the seeds for our future sowers.  The positive cycle of “challenge” will change and mold our next set of graduates, who are in turn our future parents, future teachers and in the end, future of the world, which is precisely what we want, since we are all seeking for that greatest ‘good.’