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The Amazing Teacher Pledge – Promise #9 – Not Allowing Students to Fail

Hello again,

We’re almost there. Have you been able to make the 8 promises so far? I know you have. That’s why you’re an amazing teacher.

Again, the Amazing Teacher Pledge is a set of 10 promises that I believe all amazing teachers make.

To recap, here are the first eight promises:

1. I promise to create amazing lesson plans.

2. I promise to keep learning.

3. I promise to communicate with parents.

4. I promise to be my students’ source of praise.

5. I promise to not “lose it” in the classroom.

6. I promise to avoid negative teachers.

7. I promise to be in a good mood every day.

8. I promise to give students a fresh start every day.

Here is promise # 9:

I promise to not allow any student to fail my class.

I know what you’re saying, “I don’t allow students to fail. They choose to fail.”

You’re right. The decisions students make are what determine their success or failure in school.

What I’m talking about, however, is making it almost  impossible for that intentional non-learner to escape the passing grade.

“Can we do that, Sam?”

I believe we can. I believe amazing teachers do.

Most students are motivated by the idea of getting good grades. They have been trained to understand that getting good grades is good and getting bad grades is bad.

For these students, it’s easy to use the threat of getting a poor grade as motivation to do their homework, classwork, study for tests, etc.

There are other students, however, who aren’t motivated by the idea of getting bad grades. They choose to fail. They don’t do homework. They don’t study for tests. They don’t connect with school, the class, or you. It appears that they just don’t care.

Many times, these are the students who are the most disruptive, but not always. Sometimes they sit quietly in the classroom and do nothing.

You know them. You have them in your classroom.

The sad thing is that I’ve heard teachers say, “If they don’t want to learn, I can’t make them learn. – You can lead a horse to water…”

I still shake my head when I see a class where more than a third of the students are failing. Something is wrong there, and we can’t blame the students.

“But you don’t know my kids, Sam.”

You’re right, but if so many students are not being successful in a teacher’s class, some action must be taken to change this. The change must start with the teacher.

This is where amazing teachers show their stuff.

Amazing teachers don’t let those students get away with failing the class.

Amazing teachers find what motivates the student, and uses it in his/her lessons.

Amazing teachers make the water taste so sweet that the student wants to drink. (OK, bad analogy, but you get the point.)

It takes time and effort, but amazing teachers don’t leave the responsibility of a student’s education in the hands of a 13-year-old or a 10-year-old or a 17-year-old.

Amazing teachers don’t throw up their hands in surrender – ever.

So what do we do when students are not completing their assignments or turning their homework? What do we do if they don’t want to come in for extra help? What do we do if they choose to fail?

Here are some ideas to make it difficult for students to fail your class:

1. Update grades often.

The sooner you know which students are falling behind, the sooner you can intervene.

2. Connect early.

As soon as you notice that a student is missing an assignment, call them on it. Ask them why. Ask them when they will turn it in.

3. Contact parents.

Parents can be very helpful in motivating a student. Sometimes, sadly, they’re not that great.  Either way, parent contact must be made, and made early.

4. The sit down.

If the previous interventions aren’t working, it’s necessary to sit down with the student and have a one-on-one conversation with him/her. This can be before school, during their lunch (It’s OK to take some of their social time to discuss how to improve their performance.), or after school, etc. The conversation cannot be judgmental or punitive. It has to be an I-am-worried-about-you conversation. You want to show this student that you have noticed that school is not a priority to him/her, and that you want to do whatever you can to help make this year a successful one. This is where you become a detective. You ask questions to see what motivates the student. You find out what’s going on at home that prevents him/her from completing homework.  You find out if there is an ability issue that is manifesting itself as apathy. This is also a good time to check the student’s record. You will be surprised as to what answers you will find when looking into a student’s file.

5.  Create a success plan.

Based on your investigation, you develop a strategy to help this student succeed. This may mean modifying  your lesson plans. (Note: When I say modifying, I don’t mean watering down the lesson. I mean changing it up, so it connects better with the student.) It may mean that you stay after school to help the student catch up. You might have to check for understanding more with this student than the rest. The point is, there has to be some kind of plan of attack to keep this student from failing.

Amazing teachers identify students who are in danger of failing, and take action to prevent it.

Free tip: One of the best ideas I ever used to keep students from failing was to offer a variety of options to complete an assignment. This is easier to do in some subject than others, but if you let students select which kind of product to turn in for a grade, you get a higher rate of completion. For example, if I wanted students to demonstrate their understanding of the Boston Tea Party, I would ask them to choose from the following: 1. Create a journal entry from someone who was there. 2. Write a newspaper article interviewing eye-witnesses. 3. Write a script for a play about the event. 4. Create a video of an interview with one of the Sons of Liberty. 5. Write an essay about the event. 6. Create a scrapbook about what happened. I could go on, but you get the idea. Sometimes our one-size-fits-all assignments don’t fit, especially for our students who are disconnected to learning.

Will you still have students who fail your class? Of course. There is only so much time in a year.

The goal of this promise, however, is to remind us to commit to doing everything we can to prevent students from failing.

When a student leaves our class at the end of the year with a failing grade, it should make us sad – sad that we lost one.


So what do you think? I hope you’re not upset with me. I may have stepped on a few toes with this one. I hope not. I would love to hear your thoughts about this promise. Please leave a comment.

Until next time,

Be amazing!


Don’t forget to take the Amazing Teacher Pledge! Click Here to be Amazing!


Amazing Teacher Pledge - Promise #9 - "I Promise to Not Allow Any Student to Fail my Class."


1 Comment

  1. October 14, 2013    

    I loved all the detailed ideas here, but the title made me feel a bit contrarian. I sometimes feel we have a paralyzing fear of failure. It’s why politicians and other authority figures cannot admit error, and it’s why we have trouble learning from mistakes. In the classroom, it’s why so many students’ first response to criticism is to deny all responsibility. Maybe the truly amazing teachers are the ones who help students understand that failure is an important part of learning. I wish I could be better at doing this myself.

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