From the Shadow of Failure

“I work continuously within the shadow of failure. For every novel that makes it to my publisher’s desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way.” – Gail Godwin

Failure is part of the human experience. No one is immune from it, not even the great ones. The most important thing is how to let failure pave the way to a new beginning.

I remember one time in the early days of my teaching career when I thought I was doing fine, until a student of mine pointed out that she was not learning much from me. She and a fellow Vietnamese were in my low intermediate English class for non-native speakers, in preparation for their forthcoming academic studies in the university.

The main objective of the class, among other things, was to develop their speaking fluency. So conversation activities – that would follow my grammar presentation -were part of our normal day-to-day routine.

Perhaps for lack of experience – as I was just a few weeks into teaching (it being my midlife career move) – and also owing to the friendliness of these two nuns before me, I’d be carried away each time we practiced conversations.

Along the way, we seemed to be enjoying the activities – they’d laugh, ask me questions, and I’d see their eyes in rapt attention. Wow, this is great – I’d tell myself thinking they were becoming more at ease with the language. Our speaking activity would often end up as freewheeling conversations.

Until one day, one of them confronted me, “Why do you not let us talk? Why must we always listen to you?!”

“What?!” I felt my cheeks burning in shame, my mind shocked.

“How come you let me me feel good?” I responded in defense, a little angry at them, too.

Never have I felt a total failure. I really thought I was connecting with my students, unaware I wasn’t facilitating their learning at all.

However painful that feedback was, it paved the way for me to shape up, grow and become the best English teacher I could ever be. Whenever I felt becoming complacent or taking things easy, I would always recall that incident – to remind me language teaching should not be all about me, my feelings, my goals.

That initial failure led me to learn more about language teaching by completing two teacher certificate courses on EFL and attending teachers’ conferences/workshops. I learned to create my own teaching materials so I could better address my students’ needs. I gained a reputation for being a teacher who enjoyed teaching and being good at my field. And all these I owe to that student of mine, who today is one of my biggest fans.

“Success is not the absence of failure; it’s the persistence through failure.” Aisha Tyler  Read more quotes

This post is my response to the writing prompt by Ms. Laura Davis. To learn more about her and see more prompts as well as writing workshops/retreats, you may go visit her site, The Writer’s Journey Roadmap.


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