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What is Failure?

Posted by on September 7, 2013

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 is a well-known Scripture verse, but sometimes we don’t actually see the good that comes from what seems like a negative experience. Or sometimes it takes years…

“In our story, the family received the bad news that the banks had failed and their money was gone. I want you to think of a time you received bad news,” I said to my 5th graders yesterday. We are in the middle of our personal narrative writing unit. As we read a picture book together, we stopped to make connections in order to gather stories to write about. After giving them some think-time, I shared a story of my own:

“I was just reminded of some bad news I received. I haven’t thought of this story for a long time… When I was a senior in high school, I had my heart set on becoming an elementary music teacher. I had to audition for the School of Music at UNC, so I practiced and practiced a solo piece on my violin. When the audition came, I was really nervous. I played my best, but the audition was discouraging. They asked me questions about music, and I didn’t give them the “correct” answers. A while later, I received a letter in the mail from UNC. They told me that I did not get accepted to be a music major. I was devastated. How could this be? I loved music, and there was nothing else I wanted to do but teach. After some thinking, I decided that I would still major in education and get a music minor instead.”

The students shared some of their bad news, and then it was time to write. I always model an example of my own for the students so they can see my thinking as a writer.

“First, I will think of a title for my story,” I began. “Something about music major… Music Major…”

“Failure!” Caleb shouted out. The class was silent.

“Caleb, don’t be rude,” Hunter said.

“I love it!” I exclaimed. “Music Major Failure.” The kids were confused.

“Isn’t failure a bad thing?” they asked me. It was the perfect teaching opportunity.

“Yes, the failure of my audition seemed like a bad thing. It seemed bad that I wanted to major in music to become a music teacher and I wasn’t able to…but it didn’t turn out bad in the end. Failure can lead you in a new direction,” I explained.

“You wouldn’t be our teacher!” Teresa realized.

“I think you do better teaching all the subjects in 5th grade,” another student added. They all got excited, thinking about how different things would be if I hadn’t failed my audition ten years ago.

We continued with the lesson. We’ve been working on HOOKing your reader with a good beginning and WOWing them with a good ending. I began to think about how to start. Jordan’s hand shot up in the air. “I think you should start with you reading the letter,” she suggested. “Dear Miss Agee, we are sorry, but you can’t be a music major.”

“Good idea!” I said. My eyes filled with tears as I read the letter, I wrote.

“Ohhh, I would want to read a story that begins like that!” Kade said.

“Dear Sarah Agee, we are sorry to inform you that you did not get accepted to be a music major at UNC.”

“Ok, now I’m going to think about the ending of my story. Once I have the beginning and ending, I’ll fill in details in the middle.” We all agreed that the ending had to be a reflection of my failure.

If I had majored in music, I wouldn’t be here in Platteville enjoying my 5th graders.

“Miss Agee, you’re going to cry!” one student said. No, I wasn’t going to cry… but I think we all learned an important lesson about the good that can come from a “failure.”

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