I often thought that getting it right the first time meant to be perfect. No mistakes. No worries. The first time I failed educationally was in middle school. It was in my eighth-grade grammar class. I didn’t realize that not passing grammar was the first time I failed myself. I can’t say that I learned from that that my grades greatly improved. That was not the lesson I learned. What I learned from that moment was that whether I passed elementary or middle school, I would move to the next level and even graduate. At the time, it didn’t matter to me.
In high school, I was officially diagnosed with migraine headaches that would aggressively hinder my learning and activities. Most of my high school career, I was either in the nurse’s office lying down in the dark with an ice pack on my head or came home after school and went to bed. This was not a one-time incident. In fact, it happened more than I can think of.
Once again I felt like I failed because I was not able to overcome my health issues. Even though I was nine years old when the headaches began, I learned how to control them, in a way, where I was able to go to school with limited issues. Despite the drastic flair ups a few times a month, I didn’t let them control who I was.
But failure was not just in middle school or with my medical condition, it continued after high school when I went to join the United States Army. During my second year of college, I went to the local army recruiter to join and protect the country. I was both nervous and excited… until I was told that after my initial examination, I was disqualified for medical reasons. I asked what that meant. Because of my diagnosis of migraines, along with my history and medication, it disqualified me from the military. Once again failure set in. At this point, I needed to move on and get out of Illinois. Transferring my junior year of college, I attended Western Michigan University where I studied in the College of Arts and Sciences. Once again I sought out the local military recruiter interested in joining the military after college.
Because I was not in the ROTC program in college, they filed my paperwork where I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. I must admit, I wanted to give up partway through the training. I called my dad one Sunday afternoon and told him I wanted to come home. My father was a veteran; I wanted to like him. To fight for our country and to be proud of who I was. He never told me to come home and he never told me to quit. He simply said that it was my choice.
I didn’t give up. I completed my 9 weeks of training, returned to the recruiting office in Michigan, and was ready to sign. I learned that when anything was tough mentally, physically, or emotionally, that it was me that I failed not anyone else. Once again nervous and scared to sign, the recruiter asked me about the disqualifications in Illinois. Unfortunately, one disqualification disqualifies me in all states. That feeling of accomplishment soon became failure. I continued to carry this thought of failure to this day wondering what would have happened if I enlisted.
Failure continued to swirl around me after that. The biggest personal failure I felt was when I was told that I was infertile. Operation after operation, medical treatment after medical treatment, and thousands of dollars later, I felt like a failure once again. Despite no medical reason for not being able to have a child, we (I) felt hopeless. Ten years after our first infertility treatment, there was a + sign on the test. I was pregnant. I was on cloud 9 and loved every minute of it. Only to find out 8 weeks later, I lost the baby and had to naturally deliver it 2 weeks later. Every day I woke up depressed knowing that there WAS an embryo inside of me that I continued to carry without a beating heart. I wanted to give up. I was destroyed. I couldn’t let that take who I was. After our sixth IVF and eighth IUI, my husband and I were blessed with a child (our miracle child) 11 years after our initial attempt.
Despite all the failures I’ve encountered, I learned from each of them. I learned that failing grammar in middle school didn’t stop me from continuing my education. I learned from my medical issues not to let them control me. I learned from my disqualification in the military that there are other opportunities for me to be successful and make a difference. I learned from my infertility problems not to give up when times seem tough. Because through all these experiences, each of them could help me better myself.
As we learn from failure, so do our students. I share my experiences with my students so they know they can be successful by learning from their own mistakes or failures. It’s not easy to overcome at times, but every time we fail at something, there is a teaching moment to be learned.
Kristen Koppers, M.Ed, NBCT
Kristen Koppers is a National Board Certified Teacher from Illinois who has been an educator for 18 years. She teaches English at the secondary education level and is the author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession (#DITeaching).