As a second-year teacher of fifth-grade special education students, Mark Anderson often feels like a failure. He hasn’t mastered the “pedagogical and content master of all subject areas” or learned how to meet all of his students social and emotional needs. Also, “I’m not Superman.” But that’s OK. “Learning is fundamentally about persistence through failure,” he writes on Gotham Schools.
Anderson was inspired by Rita Smilkstein’s “We Were Born to Learn,” which calls for “making mistakes, correcting mistakes, learning from them, and trying over, again and again.”
He also quotes Deborah Meier, from her book on trust in schools:
There is no way to avoid doing something dumb when you are inexperienced or lacking in knowledge, except by not trying at all, insisting you don’t care or aren’t interested, thinking the task itself is dumb (not you), or trying secretly so no one can catch your mistakes — or offer you useful feedback. Of course, these are the excuses we drive most kids into when they don’t trust us enough to make mistakes in our presence.
As he learns to be a teacher, Anderson makes mistakes. He tells students when he’s made a mistake and what he’s learned from it.
The important part of learning is not that we fail, nor even that we fail over and over again. The important part is that we persist. And with time and the proper support, anyone can get better.
Of course, learning from failure is a skill.