Rita Pierson is an educator in Houston, Texas. She believes strongly in the power she and other teachers have to influence children and young people. Her impact is illustrated in a story she tells about a boy’s reaction after doing poorly on a quiz. The student missed 18 out of 20 questions, but Pierson graded the test a +2 and drew a smiley face on his test paper. The boy asked her if getting only 2 out of 20 was an “F” (denoting failure). She said “yes”, which prompted the child to ask her why she had put a smiley face on his paper. Her answer: “Because you’re on a roll. You got 2 right – you didn’t miss them all. And when we review this, won’t you do better?” His response: “Yes, ma’am, I can do better. Minus 18 sucks all the life out of you. Plus 2, that ain’t all bad.”
Pierson gives her students pep talks. She asks them to repeat phrases like: “I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress and places to go.”
Pierson asks us to think about “how powerful would our world be if we had kids not afraid to take risk, not afraid to think.” She says, “Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will not give up on them … and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”
Such teachers do make a difference in children’s lives. They are inspirational and support achievement over failure. We should ask ourselves why schools often draw attention to failure. Improvement and progress and development should be featured instead, in the same way as good students are praised. We learn from our mistakes; mistakes are lessons. Everyone knows the adage: “In every mistake there is a potential for growth.” So let’s celebrate betterment and success over failure.