Even the best, most accomplished teachers make (sometimes big) mistakes. But as the experts and authority figures in their classrooms, teachers face myriad pressures to have all the answers and, in some cases, to work miracles. This book brings together first-hand stories from classrooms across the globe of hard-won lessons stemming from teachers’ mistakes and failures both small and colossal to show how becoming expert actually necessitates failure. It’s through their mistakes that the most successful people arrive at greatness.
Failure Before Success brings together accounts from everyone from a world-renowned Finnish education scholar and global policy advisor to distinguished professors of education to veteran teachers with decades of experience working in the complex field of teaching. While there are silver bullet books for teachers on the market, none match the comfort Failure Before Success offers by telling the stories of how some of the most accomplished in the field got it wrong and turned their mistakes into their greatest lessons on teaching excellence.
Julie Warner, EdD, left the classroom fewer than 10 years ago—close enough that she can still vividly remember her first few rocky years with their emotional and logistical landmines, but long enough to have had a career in education since then that includes obtaining a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University, stints as an Education Policy Advisor in the U.S. Senate and the White House, and overseeing the teacher issues portfolio within the U.S. Department of Education’s internal think tank. Even as she’s advised on high-level policy decisions in education, she’s always stayed close to the classroom: she’s a National Board Certified Teacher, has published books on teaching with technology, and is an education journalist for Course Hero’s Faculty Club, one of the top 250 sites on the web.
Foreword: David Reinking
PART I: DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
Chapter 1: Learning to Become Culturally Responsive: Teaching on an Indian Reservation
Chapter 2: Recognizing (Neuro)Diverse Perspectives in the English Language Arts Classroom
Chapter 3: Manuel’s T-shirt: Learning a Hard Lesson about Student Poverty
Chapter 4: Semantic Snafu: How I Learned to Choose My Words Carefully
PART II: REFRAMING ASSUMPTIONS
Chapter 5: Grading and Gate-Keeping
Chapter 6: On Teaching and Toolsheds: Role Reversal on the Construction Site
Chapter 7: Assumptions and Acceptance in Rural Pennsylvania
Chapter 8: Discomfort Zone: Overcoming Ethnocentricity and Implicit Biases in Teaching
PART III: FOSTERING RELATIONSHIPS AND ADVOCATING FOR STUDENTS
Chapter 9: Be a Voice for the Voiceless
Chapter 10: Learning to Fly: Why Developing Student Voice Matters
Chapter 11: Learning from Nuts and Bolts: Listening to Yourself and Your Learners
Chapter 12: Safe Havens, Love, and Connection: Learning to Co-Teach Effectively
Darius Montez Phelps
Chapter 13: There Is No Ethos: How I Learned to Overcome Entitlement and Gain Student Trust
PART IV: CREATING RESPONSIVE ENVIRONMENTS FOR STUDENT LEARNING
Chapter 14: Trigger Warnings
Chapter 15: Dealing with Math Anxiety
Chapter 16: Interrupting Binary Thinking in a Trauma-Informed Elementary Classroom
Chapter 17: Learning to Overcome Dysfunctional Independence
PART V - PEDAGOGY AND INSTRUCTIONAL DECISIONS
Chapter 18: Missteps in Middle School English: Moving Beyond Classroom Management and Content Mastery
Chapter 19: The Power of the Mistake: Missteps and Instructional Decisions in Teaching Mathematics
Chapter 20: Beyond Finding and Fixing Error: Responding to Student Work
Chapter 21: Lesson Plans Would Be So Easy If It Weren’t For the Students
Chapter 22: The Limits of Teacher Preparation: Learning to Make Pedagogy Actionable
Discussion Questions for Readers
About the Editor
About the Contributors
In this collection, Warner, a National Board Certified Teacher, former education policy advisor in the U.S. Senate and White House, and education journalist, compiles an international array of accounts that encapsulate firsthand the mistakes and failures (both big and small) of educators on a global scale to demonstrate that to become an expert, one first needs to fail. To underscore this point in her introduction, Warner dismisses the notion of “perfect teaching” as a myth and instead claims that veteran educators learn from their mistakes. The following chapters illustrate that educators need to be aware of and accept their mistakes and failures, and Warner advises analytical reflection to mitigate the negative aspects of failure. The volume deftly provides a path for educators to learn from their mistakes while identifying a simple set of knowledge and skills for all educators to use to ensure they have a successful, healthful, and positive impact on their students. This is a must-read for novice and experienced educators desiring the wisdom to derive meaning from their mistakes and to continue to change and grow for their students. Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals.
When beginning educators learn from experienced teachers, it often appears to them that expert instruction emerges by magic. Failure Before Success dispels the myth of perfect teaching and demonstrates that veteran educators have learned from many mistakes and missteps. Julie Warner’s anthology will be very useful in any general pedagogy course for beginning teachers and will likely be read with great interest by veteran teachers who will no doubt relate to the brave testimonies of despair, hope, and transformation honestly shared throughout the text.
Experience is the great teacher. And yet our educational culture too often leaves educators reluctant to talk openly about their missteps. That's what makes Julie Warner's new book, Failure Before Success, so valuable-- it offers the kind of hard-earned wisdom that can make all the difference. Teachers everywhere, new and old alike, would do well to check it out.
We know that students can learn from failure, and this book demonstrates that teachers can too. These engaging essays offer an invitation for teachers to make meaning from their mistakes, and continue to grow and evolve in service to their students.
Any educator with an evolving learners’ mindset knows it’s quite liberating when we realize choosing to take risks, be compliant, or daring to reimagine will lead to some inevitable frustrations. The transformative liberating power comes when we chose to redefine our struggles with ownership and perspective shifts, through reflection, self interrogation and recentering our learners. These introspective educators have explicitly and vulnerably offered to share the often unspoken internal work of a lifetime learner. They have chosen to pay it forward from their own lessons of failure before success and are inviting us to dare to reimagine what’s possible as a learner.
Next year my lessons will be perfect. I will know exactly what I am doing, and I won’t have to change a thing!” I would proclaim at the end of each year of 16-hour teacher-days all 20 years of teaching high school and middle school. And if I hadn’t left to direct a National Writing Project, I would have probably repeated it after my 21st year also. These personal accounts most notably let teachers know that we are not alone. In sharing mistakes made, these educators make us all more compassionate of other educators and of ourselves and give us permission to learn and transform our teaching. Through the reflections of others, readers will discover that it is not the destination; it is the journey.
This outstanding book by Julie Warner provides a core and essential set of knowledge and skills for teachers that will facilitate their success, well-being and positive impact on students. I believe it should be a staple resource for all teachers.