Why failure should never be used to break students.

Juliet Education in Kenya

When I joined form one, I can clearly remember what a good student I was. The first year, I never went below position 20 out of over 200 students. I used to run home to my mother every other closing date with my report card and looking into her eyes I always saw how proud she felt. I never knew that the joy, those proud eyes, that love and motivation I got from her would ever come to an end.

I still remember that fateful day during the August holiday while in form two, they had a family meeting. She woke up very early to prepare for the meeting. I had never seen her looking as beautiful as she looked that day. We had chitchat as she dressed up. She promised to bring us lots of goodies and we promised to be at our best behavior. She kissed us goodbye and left. My siblings and I ran to the window and watched until she was out of site. Who knew it was last time we’d see her. Who knew?

To cut the long sad story short, that was the end of me. I lost myself. Back to school, I could not concentrate. My grades dropped terribly. I changed for the worst. I felt as if I had nothing else to lose or live for. I was always out of school on suspension; I deliberately did wrong to upset everyone. I was fighting everyone; I wanted the world to hurt as much as I was. I felt no one understood my pain.

When we were graduating to form four, the teachers decided to group us into three different classes; the FIRST class (for the bright top students), SECOND class for the (average performers) and THIRD class (for the poorest). Being index number 119, I obviously fell to the third class. Tough luck ha-ha. Not that I cared anyway at the moment.

It all begun to matter to us, when all the teachers started to treat us as if we never mattered. It’s like we didn’t exist. Our class was at a hidden corridor, the teachers would miss almost every lesson. They had already considered us hopeless, why sweat over people like us?

Even our fellow students used to look at us as if we had problems. Maybe we did. It affected us, most of us got used to being discriminated, and they actually started to believe they were failures. Deep down I knew I was not a failure but I was too consumed in my own world to want to do anything about it.

One day our CRE teacher came to class and asked us a question which we were all unable to answer. She made us stand up and started hauling insults to us. “You are very useless, fools, all you’re good at is making noise in the class. You will never succeed. I don’t know why am wasting my time and energy on people like you. You are a hopeless bunch”. Those words hit me so hard. I was not hopeless, at least not because she said I was.  I cried that whole night, I was not a failure nor was I hopeless. That’s not want my mum would want me to be.

I hated the teacher for that, but her words changed me. I was tired of being looked at as a failure.  I had to prove to her and the whole school that I wasn’t a failure. I wasn’t useless. Just because I wasn’t an index one, it didn’t mean my downfall. I put my best foot forward. I believed I could turn things around. I had to.

Things took a different turn. I came from number 119 to number 36 at the end term exam, then number 18, I kept rising. I still remember with a smile how the teacher used me as a testimony during our prayer day. And yes I made it, from the THIRD CLASS, I became among top ten students, and among the seven who made it to the university.

Teachers should be the first people to encourage the students. Many students are going through difficulties, family separations, divorce, sexual harassment, low self-esteem, loss of close family members, poverty, diseases, you name it. We should be there to listen, understand, empathize and work on their healing and restoration. Don’t be the one to break them. As teachers, parents or guardians, what are we doing to encourage these children? Are we building them or breaking them further?

About the author

Carolyne Wanjiku is our marketing intern. She holds a Bachelor of Education, and has a background in teaching Maths and Science to primary school Students.