A time when I failed in my Mathematics Class Test

Fail

Verb: Be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal

Noun: An instance of poor performance.

As a student, I used to do well in academics. Teachers, friends, neighbours and parents always commended me on my intelligence. This is an incident from the time when I was in the fourth grade. Our mathematics teacher was very strict. He used to pull ears and slap kids who did not pay attention in class and did not do well in exams. I usually scored well in Mathematics. However, on this particular occasion, I ended up not doing well in a class test. I scored nine marks out of a total of thirty five, which was below the passing score.

I was devastated. During the lunch break that day, my friends sat with me. We discussed possible ways to overcome this failure. We considered how I could explain this failure to people in future when I apply for college or go for jobs. One of my closest friends said, “This is a blemish that I will now need to carry with me for the rest of my career.” I agreed with him. At home, that evening, my father looked at my answer sheet and pointed out that one of the questions for which I have scored zero actually seems correct. He suggested that I talk to the teacher about that question the next day. This gave me some hope.

The next day, I went to the school. I was scared of taking on the teacher. In front of the entire class, I went to his table and parroted to him what my father had told me. The teacher explained to me why my answer is wrong. He touched my ear, getting ready to pull it as he usually did. However, he took pity on me and stopped himself. He knew for me to be a good student and this probably understood that failing in a test is something huge for me to digest.

He changed my score from nine to sixteen. I felt that these are pity marks. I also felt humiliated and unsafe as the entire class had witnessed this exchange. In the evening, my father said that it’s good that the marks are changed now and that I should forget about this entire episode.

Through this entire event, no one told me that it is OK to fail. That it is not the end of the world.

As time passed, this incident faded in my memory. However, this was not an isolated incident. Due to the reinforcements I got at school, at home and from my peer group, I grew up developing a fixed mindset. I started to believe that my good grades are due to some inherent trait and not because of training or practice. This mindset made me shy away from taking risks. Even as a grown up, I always felt that failing is not an option. Every test, every interview, every new job, every new activity with come with very high degree of anxiety due to one simple reason — what if I fail in this. I would avoid taking on things where I felt that I am not going to do well.

Is it too late for me now? I hope not. Mindsets can be changed. New habits can be inculcated. As much as I still have the child in me which is still carrying the fixed mindset, so is an adult in me as well. This adult, who has experienced life. Who has experienced many failures and witnessed that life finds a way to keep going despite them. This adult me needs to keep telling the child within that it is OK to fail.

I have a seven year old son.

  • I will appreciate him for his efforts rather than the outcome.
  • I will encourage him to take risks. Jump down five flights of stairs, play ball risking the breaking of TV, steal mangoes from the neighbours’ tree.
  • I will always remind him that skills are acquired — they are not inherent. There will always be people who will be more skilled than us. Hence, rather than comparing with others, we have to set goals for ourselves and measure progress against those goals and our own past performance.

I will tell him that sometimes despite everything we do, things don’t go the way we want them to go. When that happens, I will give him a hug and tell him that it is OK. That he is still loved and valued and that life will go on.

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I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

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Selfish Altruist

Selfish Altruist

I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

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