It was the end of another long workday. In my first semester as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, each day brought dozens of new challenges, which I failed to conquer. The concepts I tried to pass on to my students would somehow escape them, leaving me to groan over their exams. The principal of my school had been telling me that my students weren’t making enough visible progress in their English. Parents were complaining about my classroom management methods. I was a failure in every aspect of my work.
Of course, teaching isn’t supposed to be easy. My colleagues told me this was normal for the first year. They said it would get better—but what about now? What about standing up every day in front of an unruly class, inwardly ashamed at my inability to control the students’ behavior?
One night, as I mindlessly browsed the Internet after another intense, frustrating day of classes, l came across a quote that answered my heart’s burning question: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” I decided to try to see each failure as a catalyst for growth. Instead of allowing feelings of shame and despair to overwhelm me, I focused on how I could glean all that each failure had to teach me.
So I tried to remember that whenever an activity degenerated into unruliness, I had just learned more about what didn’t work for my students. When my principal pointed out flaws in my teaching style, I focused on changing my attitude and approach. Whenever the little faces looked up at me with confusion or boredom, I realized that I had to change my way of teaching a concept.
As I look back, I am grateful for each of those discouraging moments in the first year of my teaching career. The failures are now behind me, but the invaluable lessons I learned about how to present information, how to interact with students, how to handle issues in the classroom—and most importantly, how to handle my own failures—have stayed with me, and continue to strengthen me. I still make mistakes in the classroom, but I have learned not to succumb to thoughts of gloom. If I can focus on what each failure has to teach me, then failure is simply another step towards progress.