Monday, December 26, 2016

Own Your Failure, Do Not Blame Your Teachers

Now that the academic semester has ended and the gift giving holiday has passed (Christmas Day), the New Year is upon us.  During these times, a little bit of reflection is in order with the following questions:

Where am I at in my life?

Where am I headed?

If you are a student, the answers are immediately based on the current academic classes (most likely) -- which are based on the successes of the previous classes completed.  This is a normal process for each student during their academic journey.  Unfortunately, there exists "outliers" who never learn to perform this introspection during this part of the year.  The last statement begs the following questions:

Who are these people?

 Where do they end up in life?

I do not pretend to have all of the answers to the world.  I can supply an example from the recent news which will shed light on the last question -- which is where they will end up.  Below is the example.

Own Your Failure

One of the critical lessons to learn in life for anyone is to 'own your own failure.'  Which is to say, instead of blaming others for your failure, take ownership of the failure and move on with success.  I imagine a few readers might be thinking the following: Easier said than done!  Yes, in some cases that is true.  Although, the daily practice of ownership is important and could serve each of us quite well.

In a news article from 'The Guardian' earlier this month titled "Graduate sues Oxford University for £1m over his failure to get a first" the discouragement of a students success is told as a result from a single course he completed 16 years earlier.  Here is the broad argument of the lawsuit by the alumni in the excerpt below:

Siddiqui, 38, who trained as a solicitor after university, says his life and career have been blighted by his failure to obtain a first when he graduated in June 2000. He said he underachieved in a course on Indian imperial history during his degree because of “negligent” teaching which pulled down his overall grade.

More specifically, he is claiming that the error occurred as a result of the University's inability to properly staff the classes.  Again, the specifics are fuzzy, but here is an excerpt from the article:

Siddiqui has said the standard of tuition he received from Dr David Washbrook declined as a result of the “intolerable” pressure the historian was placed under. In the academic year 1999-2000, four of the seven faculty staff were on sabbaticals and the court heard from Siddiqui’s barrister that it was a “clear and undisputed fact” that the university knew of the situation in advance. He told the judge that of the 15 students who received the same teaching and sat the same exam as Siddiqui, 13 received their “lowest or joint lowest mark” in the subject.

Mallalieu told the court: “This is a large percentage who got their lowest mark in the specialist subject papers. There is a statistical anomaly that matches our case that there was a specific problem with the teaching in this year having a knock-on effect on the performance of students.” He added: “The standard of teaching was objectively unacceptable.”

Mr. Siddiqui is one of several students who received a bad grade during that exam and course -- for that matter.  Where are the other disgruntled students?  Further, the problem resides around Mr. Siddiqui's inability to accept the 'contract' that each student agrees to when enrolling in a course at a University.

In a blog post that I wrote for another site (professional - LinkedIn), I highlighted in the beginning that each student enters an informal contract with the university when enrolling in a course.  The agreement of the contract is centered around the following two principles stated below:

1) Students agree to follow the university rules (attendance, assignments, etc.).

2) Faculty and Staff agree to uphold their part and provide a quality education to each student.

As I stated in that blog: Do we live in a perfect world?  No!  But each of us need to do our agreed upon part in the educational process.  Students tend to forget that each of them hired the university to teach them a certain skill set.  That is an agreement.  Not a pay and take all (meaning I pay and receive the degree with no work) process.  School is not easy.

The largest problem with blaming teachers in the educational process is that data speaks volume in the teachers favor.  What do I mean by this?  Not every teacher is wonderful.  But most teachers have a track record with a large amount of students over the course of many years.   How often do students return decades later and thank their instructor for teaching them properly?  No more needs to be said regarding placing the blame on the teacher.  Lets focus on the student in this case.

In the article above, the obvious fall-out from such a lawsuit is the 'flood gates' that can be opened for future lawsuits that are obviously flawed and based on failure (on the students part) to take ownership.  Additionally, if low grades were given to 13 other students, in order to rule in favor of him the following questions would have to be answered:

1) How was he professionally impacted by the low grade?

2) Why did he wait such a long time to bring the lawsuit against the university?

3) Why have other students not stepped up and joined the lawsuit?

4) Why have other students not spoken out about the low grades?

5) How can a court prove that there is a link between a grade and professional failure?

6) How does the court rule out psychological problems at play in the lawsuit?

I was fascinated to read that there were no other students speaking out about the incident.  I imagine each of them have moved on and attributed the low grade to 'bump in the road.'  Regardless, the length of time in between the course and the lawsuit is extremely suspicious among other factors in the case.  In time, more might be revealed about Mr. Siddiqui.

Each of us need to take ownership of both our progress and failures.


What is disappointing about the article and the lawsuit is that the student has now grown up to be a professional who has not learned to take ownership for his failures.  Which is extremely sad.  Imaging what his life is like?  Living day to day with 'bad grade' hanging over his head and affecting his current progress.

There will be many failures in life along our professional development.  The time is now to accept them and move on.  As I tell people constantly about the potential failure of dwelling on the past to such a large degree -- think of the process as driving a car.   Ask yourself the following question:

Would I drive forward while looking in the 'rear-view' mirror?

Of course not!  You would hit some object (car, human, etc.) by not looking forward but focusing on the past.  Each of us should do the same with our success and failure.  Move forward accepting the past.

Until next time, Have a great day!

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