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Failing to Learn

posted May 12, 2010, 8:15 AM by Dan Dunbar
I never thought about teaching so much when I was starting out as a teacher. I just did it, or I thought I did. There were times when I thought I was a good teacher doing the right things the right way, but other times I felt I a pretty crummy teacher, because nothing seemed to be going right for me. My first year of teaching was filled with self-condemnation. 

At the end of a long day, I would pour out my woes to the English teacher and she would speak light into my darkness and give me hope that tomorrow things would get better. She did not let me quit. She pointed out my mistakes, but she pointed out my successes too. Day after day, I came to school as the high school math and history teacher and did my best, which wasn't much, but was better than nothing, and I probably failed more than I succeeded. I know her words of encouragement kept me going. 

I think the fact that I had moved all the way to Baltimore, Maryland from Portland, Maine also played into my "try, try again" efforts. I had spent years of my life preparing to teach and had moved so far to take the job, that my pride would not let me quit even if I wanted to on some days. I felt like Job when he said, "If only I knew where to find Him" (Job 23:3) because, like Job, I looked north, south, east, and west and wondered where God was now that He had brought me to this place. Had he abandoned me? No. As Job 23:10 says, "But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold." God was allowing me and my faith to be tested. 

It was not pleasant to feel like a failure. My experiences in school had for years been ones of success as a student, but now, here I was on the side of the classroom as a teacher and not doing very well. That was hard, but it had to happen in order for me to learn. I had to persevere and believe that it would all be worthwhile, that I would come forth as gold if I could stay in the furnace and have my dross burned out. It was a lot of hard work, learning the curriculum, learning the school and the students, and learning about my shortcomings and God's gracious provisions. It is still a wonder to me that I am the principal of this school. I am thinking about teaching more now than ever, and I think to myself, "If only I had known this back then..." 

Part of the learning process is failure. I hate to fail. It just bugs me. But if I don't risk failing, I won't learn, because I won't even try, or I won't persevere in the face of failure. If I never tried and never failed, I would never get to know the grace and mercy, the love and forgiveness of God, and that would mean I would fail to know His true nature and character, and that would be the biggest failure of all. So, in the end, I think we must accept that failure is part of learning or we will fail to learn. I hope that makes sense. And failure is not the place where we stop and take on an identity. We persevere by grace and watch God produce treasure in our lives.