Celebrate This Week: Failure

More and more I’m thinking about being a learner and failing.

I love learning. I seek it. It keeps me going.

But recently, I’ve had a couple of learning with different reactions. I didn’t love it. I hated it. I was failing, and I didn’t want to fight through it. I wanted to flee.

I wanted to hide, shut down. All things kids do when they can’t, and teachers try to break through, I felt.

I sat there. I didn’t understand. On the spot with others looking at me.

Some say myself included, we need to push to discomfort to stretch ourselves. We need to fail to succeed. But that day, I went to that place, and I walked away feeling less than others.  It’s stuck with me. And I’m glad.

Why did I react that way? Was it the tone, environment, subject?  Was it something I wasn’t ready for? Was it just how I woke up that morning?

The trouble in this learning situation wasn’t the push, the challenge, the lack of understanding, or failure. It was a feeling, like drowning. I felt it at the moment, and it lingers. It a scary place. To go there again would make reconstructing my sense of self more and more difficult.

Another person might have thrived in this experience. Their tipping points of frustration, their competitive sense, their need to comply or a multitude of other factors might have kept another person afloat as a learner.

As an adult, I have a choice and knowledge of myself. I can avoid or modify my situation.

My students don’t have that choice. It’s up to me to create it for them.

They come to me day after day.  How they feel deep in the pit of their being when they walk in the door is on me.  Some don’t have the maturity or enough learning history to process failure and solider on. Students who tune out, misbehave, appear lazy are making the only choice they can at that moment. They are protecting themselves. They are keeping themselves in a safe place. I know it. But it’s a good thing to feel it.

It isn’t about the push, the stretch, or the failure. It’s about how you feel deep inside when you finish a task, a day, a week. And how you walk in the door the next day.

I experienced failure, and it wasn’t anything but painful. It sticks with me.

Our paths to learning are varied. The point is that we stay on it. This week learning wasn’t what I expected, and I celebrate it with you.

Read more celebrations here. Thank you, Ruth, for this place to share.

celebrate link up

20 thoughts on “Celebrate This Week: Failure

  1. No one should have to feel like a failure, but it happens. The reaction is the thing. How do you move forward and face challenges again? Students will feel failure. It’s inevitable. What we need to show them is how to move on, be better for it, and strive once again.

  2. I agree with Margaret’s comment. It’s how we react to it. It’s the reflecting and the process. I know it’s easy to say, but I believe if we can change our mindset, it changes who we are and how we approach new and scary opportunities where we might encounter failure. (By the way, you are not less than others! I wanted you to hear that! You inspire me and I admire you!!!)

  3. Hmm. . . failure’s been on my mind, too, as you’ll see in tomorrow’s blog post. (The first I’ve written since December!) I’ve come up with another strategy for dealing with it, but it’s definitely a sneaky adversary. And I agree with Bernadette that while it’s awful—but sometimes unavoidable–to feel that way, we can still make something good come from it, like empathy and humility.

  4. Thanks for being human, Julieanne! And sharing your vulnerability with us as a reminder that failure is uncomfortable and messy and necessary. I love learning from you.

  5. There’s sometimes a point when failure is sinking to the bottom of the pool. Fairly quick and yet easily overcome with energetic kicking and the natural floatiness of our bodies. And then there are other times when failure is quicksand. The more you try to fight and work through it, the more deeply you are stuck.

    We do have more choices as adults. But even we need to know when to turn to others for support, affirmation, and help. That’s success. Knowing how to move beyond . . . And it is a delicate dance.

  6. Well, I can’t really say anything better than what has already been said. So, I won’t even try. Just know that I am thinking about you and hoping that the lessons learned will move you on.

  7. I think we need reminders like this so we can be better teachers. And we also have to remember that failure can be helpful. It doesn’t mean we are less than. I love some of the quotes from a novel coming out soon, Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. Here is one I really appreciate, “As Ma likes to say, you cannot control the wind, but you can control your sails.”

  8. You’ve shared a powerful experience, and one I hope all of us can learn from, for ourselves and when working with others, children and adults. When I returned to teaching a long time ago, I subbed everywhere, trying to get a feel for what was happening after some years “out”. There was one head of school who asked every teacher to take a project that would be learning something entirely new, and to show proficiency in it after a year. Many chose a musical instrument, some a language, some the visual arts. I thought it was a most wonderful thing, and I also wonder how uncomfortable some felt, then connected to students struggling to learn something new. That said, hugs to you for the deep feelings you felt in this instance, Julieanne. Even if you learn from it, it still must hurt.

  9. I wonder whether it is our past – the expectation of being good, learning, achieving – that plays a role in how we see and experience failure. We are only now as adults learning that failing, feeling uncomfortable, is ok, necessary part of learning. It doesn’t make the situations when we feel we can’t understand/do something any easier. At least looking back you are able to analyze and make sense of what was. The fact that you are celebrating shows that you are also able to let go and move on.

  10. This really resonated with me, Julieanne:
    It isn’t about the push, the stretch, or the failure. It’s about how you feel deep inside when you finish a task, a day, a week. And how you walk in the door the next day.

  11. I appreciate the honesty in these words: “It was a feeling, like drowning. I felt it at the moment, and it lingers. It a scary place.” … “It’s how you feel deep inside when you finish… ” Thanks for sharing your thinking. Valuable words to remember!

  12. Julieanne, being a reflective teacher, you have captured the time in your career in which you question your actions and find the pit of failure a lonesome place. I want you to know that this happens to those who think deeply about what they do. What makes this post special is that you have chosen to share your thoughts publicly as many do not do. I am sure that you walked in the door with a bit of sadness, overwhelming feelings, a sense of resolve to continue to hone your craft. Well done!

  13. I’m sorry that you had that scary experience, feeling as if you were drowning in failure. What I do admire is that you were able to reflect upon it and place those feelings in the context of children’s learning. It is only when we have experienced a little of it ourselves that we can empathise with their feelings and support their responses and progress.

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