Failing Forward: Turning Setbacks Into Triumphs

Another school year has come and gone. For many of us, it was a year of a few huge successes, a few colossal failures, and a whole lot of in-betweens. This article discusses how those colossal failures can propel you toward being a much better version of yourself.

Failing Forward

Every failure is an opportunity

I love failure…at least after it’s all over. I don’t love failing. In fact, failing at stuff is one of my least favorite things. But I love what failure does to a person. It means I did something. It means I tried. It also means, I have a new opportunity to learn a great lesson. Often, the bigger the failure, the more valuable the potential lesson.

The tough part about being a teacher, is that we are on display all day every day, and the number of chances we have to make very public mistakes is pretty limitless. The worst part about it is that whereas most people understand failure as a natural part of life and are ready to forgive human errors, we deal with children who often have a mistaken idea that adults have it all figured out. So the goal is clearly to learn from the mistakes so that we don’t continually make the same ones. After all, part of getting better at anything is learning from the experience.

The real story behind experience

Experienced teachers, then are not better because of the experiences. They are better because of the lessons learned. As I have gotten older and spent more years in the classroom of life, I have come to understand that nobody has it all figured out. We’re all holding so many pieces of our own lives together with duct tape and chicken wire just trying to make it to the end of the moment. Young teachers, be aware of this. From one of the more experienced teachers around you who seem to have figured things out, we have figured some things out, and most of us are thrilled to be able to share our wisdom with you so that you don’t have to go through all of the rough times we’ve been through.

If you can avoid making the mistakes and still learn the lessons, you have taken a huge step in the right direction. But you are going to mess up. In fact, a great anonymous quote that is often falsely attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and others says that “Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”


Lessons unlearned are wasted hurts

If we don’t learn lessons from our failures and continue repeating them, the net result is a heap of failures with no light at the end of the tunnel. Discouragement is a natural byproduct of this, and all go through periods of discouragement. Life is hard.

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While the number of teachers who quit within the first five years may not be the frequently quoted 50%, it is still a sizable number. In fact, I believe that the failure to learn from failures is exactly why many teachers do not continue teaching.

Turning failure into success

When we use our mistakes as opportunities to grow, it actually models the growth mindset to our students and teaches them valuable lessons. So what are some ways we can turn that discouragement into growth?

  1. Treat every negative experience as an opportunity
  2. Seek solutions to problems, rather than simply identifying the problems
  3. Proactively identify problem areas in your life and troubleshoot them
  4. Remember that doing more of what didn’t work will likely produce greater frustrations rather than improvement
  5. Seek help (find a mentor, find a blog, find a book)
  6. Be cautious of “analysis paralysis”; make a change, even if you are scared to do so
  7. When all else fails, make a change and see how that goes

Quite often, things won’t appear to improve immediately. If your research has found that a certain solution is likely to work and it didn’t work the first day you tried it, don’t go back to your old habits. Remember, those didn’t work in the first place. I can’t stress enough the importance of working with a mentor or a team of mentors who are interested in your success.

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

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