catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 11 :: 2004.05.21 — 2004.06.03


Failure and hope

Every semester’s end I hold my breath and wait. Another season of targets has ended with some bull’s eyes and some misses. At semester’s end I wait for the phone call to come seeking answers. The questioner will be my supervisor, or a parent, or a student him or herself wondering about the grade I have assigned to indicate performance in one of my English classes. It seems no matter how much I prepare students for their final grades, some always profess shock at their allotted letter grade or at the fact that I have failed them.

The wording, “I have failed them,” is somewhat appropriate. Many students who fail my class assume little to no responsibility. Some will fight to have my decision reversed, always to no avail. In some ways, though, with some students I do feel I have failed them; I have failed to reach them, I have not been clear, I have not been a good teacher. Should I have said more to them during the semester? Were there warning signs I missed indicating a student was in trouble? My classes are not large by any means. Was I being prejudicial in any way? Had I not given them enough ammunition to succeed? Were my targets too high? All these things come into account the day I tally up the marks to discern the grade: over 90 gets an A; over 80, a B; and so on… 59 is a fail. I sweat the numerals; I inch students up who have made the effort and conversely fasten sloths to their anchor. Every semester’s end finds me this way: full of second thoughts and doubt. I fear what could be confrontation, which could bring out my own insecurities on being a so-called expert. Mostly, it’s what happens afterwards, too. When I next see some of the students I have failed or have given a lower grade, which was expected or otherwise, there is a tendency on their part to look away in shame. They lower their eyes and walk on by. It is like something ugly has transpired between us. It’s a painful dart to my heart knowing they feel this way. Walking by them I offer up little prayers that they see that they themselves are not failures—they simply missed the target.

Some eventually come back around and, even though they have their choice of professors, re-enroll in my class, which makes me care for them more than I should. But mostly to all those students who find at semester’s end their breath taken away by failure or lower than expected results, I want to say that I know how they feel. They are loved still.

Jesus loves me for my failures and my success. Oh, I can’t count the many times I’ve missed what I was aiming for, yet, He never gives up on you and me and we shouldn’t either of Him. He died so we may try and try again to walk his walk. Our imitations may pale, surely, but still they alight the darkest path. And although there are times in the maelstroms of our lives when darkness is all that we feel and see, Jesus is there, hurricane lamp in his tight grip, waving us in. Just when we feel we’ve spent our last arrow, trying and missing the targets of our choice, Jesus shows us that our quiver is always replenished.

Several years ago, in my first year of post-secondary education, this novelist, fifteen-year journalist and English professor received a C in Introduction to English. Of course things got much better, as they do. A little voice inside us says so. And perhaps that is my hope for my students, that they realize things will get better, that they listen for that still, small voice or seek Jesus’ gesture out of darkness. It is the way. Just exhale. And wait. Can you hear it? Can you see Him? There. Walk on. You are not a failure.

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