Professor Sir John Gurdon, center, winner of Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. (Creative Commons.)
When June rolls around I think of the two years I spent in an administrative position with a charter school. I remember the air of excitement for weeks in anticipation of the last day of the school year and the long awaited summer break. I still picture teachers and students celebrating in the hallways as they emptied lockers, hugged, said their goodbye’s and eventually made their way out to the parking lot to buses, cars and awaiting parents.
Many of the kids headed off to proud and excited parents following a year of excellent grades and the praise of their teachers. Others left thankful for the year end, looking forward to a fresh start the next year (I’m very familiar with this category). Having the opportunity to observe teachers and students interactions from my administrative level and recollecting my own experiences over my many school years I can tell you the evaluations of teachers are not always on the mark.
Take this report card from a troubled science teacher in 1949.
“It has been a disastrous half. His work has been far from satisfactory. His prepared stuff has been badly learnt, and several of his test pieces have been torn over; one of such pieces of prepared work scored 2 marks out of a possible 50. His other work has been equally bad, and several times he has been in trouble, because he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way. I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance to find the work of a specialist, and it would be sheer waste of time, both on his part, and of those who have to teach him.”
This is from the report card of John Gurdon, by one of his teachers at Eton College. John Gurdon ranked last out of the 250 boys in his Eton year group at biology, and was in the bottom set in every other science subject.
In 2012, John Gurdon was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology, or Medicine. Above his desk at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, which is named in his honor he kept a framed copy of these words from his teacher’s 1949 evaluation.
Do you think this story doesn’t apply to your situation? Think again. John Gurdon kept on trying. Whether because of his shortcomings, or despite them, he succeeded. I take this personally (having many a similar experience with teachers over the years) and you should too. So, if you are a parent of a child, or you’re a student and you receive glowing praise, or something far less from your teachers keep this in mind, teachers aren’t always right.
Here’s the message: don’t worry about what other people think of you. Worry instead about the chances you miss when you don’t keep trying. Embrace your failures and learn from them, as in the case of John Gurdon, they can be one of life’s best teachers and greatest motivators.
William “Bud” Hart is a certified “Mindset” Coach, Accountability Partner and Business Consultant. Founder of Hart Group, www.hartgroupma.com.