Failure is inseparable from the joys of teaching

In the midst of a difficult teaching year, TLN member Mary Tedrow has found solace in Thomas Newkirk’s Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones, which she describes as “a manifesto on behalf of quality instruction.”

In a new essay for Teacher Magazine (free registration), Tedrow welcomes Newkirk’s recounting of classroom-proven literacy teaching principles, but she’s most taken with Newkirk’s message about teacher failure: It’s built into the work.

Newkirk acknowledges that all teachers live with a deep insecurity that we either learn to accept or ultimately ignore for self-preservation. He argues that the profession needs to embrace an awareness that all teachers struggle with regular failures: students they can’t reach, lessons that fall flat, explanations that are met by blank stares. He eloquently describes the inevitable class where—because of the time of day, or the season, or the odd mix of personalities—no one appears to have the energy for learning, and the teacher feels mired in lethargy as well. He reminds us that no one is a super-teacher 24/7. Some failure is a natural consequence of the tremendous challenges we take on.

One commenter at the Teacher website wrote: “This reflective piece should be emailed to every struggling or anxious teacher in America.” We agree.

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