If ever there was a time for failure, that time is now. The odds are toppling over and spilling around my feet that I will forget, or simply not know, something that carries the weight of my career, my childrens’ education, or my general wellbeing. The routines that became routine from 17 years in the classroom, 12 years of parenting, and 39 years of life lessons will not be the scaffolding that supports me in what is to come.
I did not grow up comfortable with failure. If I might fail at it, I likely wouldn’t try it at all. I padded my nest with approval and successes, and I was satisfied to stay there all through high school and most of college. Fortunately, at some point, my honors college perfectionism was replaced with a little more adventurous nature. Adventure often equates to errors, so I cozied up to the idea a little bit. I adopted the mantra that fail means “first attempt in learning”, and in doing so, I followed many new, sometimes unusual, pathways.
Now I teach high school students who are very much like the honor roll me of 20 years ago. They fret over a point or two, stress over college admittance, and cry over things that I likely once cried about but now have the distance to laugh about. I spend much of my time in AP telling them, over and over, that it will all be OK, that taking chances is worth the risk, that a failure is not forever. This year, I think it is time to take that advice to heart.
I have spent many hours reframing my course to fit an online platform that is unfamiliar. I think that next week when my students join me virtually, it will all unroll without a hitch, but if 2020 has taught me anything, it is that the reality of that happening is highly unlikely. Probably in the first week, I will have at least one computer crash, one failed live meeting, and one faulty link. Perhaps even that is an underestimation. I will forget to pack Carys’ extra snack because her lunch is at 1:40 this year. I will miss a Zoom meeting with Anika’s teacher or forget to turn in a health slip for Maeve. I will cry at least twice over both monumental and inconsequential issues. There will be multiple miscommunications in my personal and professional life, and I will struggle to wrangle my increasing memory issues into some semblance of order. This is not a defeatist attitude; it is an acceptance of how life is and how it feels right now.
But I am ready. I am not afraid of failure these days. I am proud that I have learned programs and technology that I would not have tried a year ago. If they don’t work flawlessly, I know it is not for lack of effort, and that there is always a way to troubleshoot technology into submission. I am not worried about what my own kids will, or won’t, learn. At the end of the day, if we can go to bed with love and patience for each other after virtual, in-person, and every other imaginable learning happening here at home, I will count it a success. The rest will come. If failing is a first attempt in learning, then I am happy to count each failure as another step in the right direction.
This may seem to some a laissez-faire attitude, but I can tell you it is anything but that. Facing failure has made me braver. It has made me more creative. It has given me confidence to try even when I know it won’t be perfect. And arguably, it has made me more successful. My second-guessing nature is not what will get me through a pandemic, an election year, an educational reenvisioning, or any personal upheaval that results from any of this. Confidence comes from overcoming failures, and this year seems like a better year than most to practice that. And perhaps the best attribute that has come from accepting my own shortcomings is that I am ready to handle my students and children with more empathy than usual–hopefully, others will have the same patience with me.