Have You Failed Lately?

Elijah Carbajal
5 min readMar 12, 2020


I failed today. It was one of the first things I did today.

I was excited to get started with our math lessons: fraction addition and subtraction and fraction equivalence. My kids played a game yesterday that they were so pumped up about that they asked to play it today. The kids were amped this morning, and excited to get started. A little too excited.

When I said, “We’re going to play that same game we played yesterday” all chaos erupted. Kids started moving before some other necessary directions were given. The volume in the room was at 100! Some kids forgot which group they were in, and so they began wandering around the room chatting with friends. Others were frustrated that no one was giving them the materials they needed. Like I said: chaos!

I wish I could tell you that I respectfully got their attention, calmly asked the kids to return to their seats, and clearly gave directions and expectations. But, as I said, I failed. It became, for a moment, like a game of Whack-a-Mole. I began to try my best to redirect each kid.

“No, you go there.”

“Hey, that’s not your group.”

“Why are you walking around doing nothing?!”

“Why are you shouting?!”


“I’m about to lose it with you guys! Get it together!”

I realized, a little too late, that I wasn’t the calm one in the room. I realized that I was also shouting. I was the one who was adding to their chaos. Sure, they didn’t listen to all my directions, and yes, they didn’t bother to ask me for clarification. Come one, though. I’m the adult. I’m the teacher who is supposed to remain calm in the chaos. The one who is supposed to calmly redirect students. I’m the one who is supposed to respectfully speak with students, not scream back at them.

Epic. Fail.

This is good though. My own loud voice made me stop, cringe inside, and calmly say, “I’m sorry. Please go back to your seats.” I walked to the front of the room. All my students had that look. The one that says, “Oh boy. We’re in for a good ole fashion butt chewing.” Instead I said, “I’m sorry. That was crazy, huh? I’m frustrated because no one listened to directions, but in my frustration I made you guys frustrated, huh? I apologize. Let’s try this again.”

This time, I gave my directions, students listened, and then we started our activities. The atmosphere felt different. The students were more focused, and everyone was a lot calmer.

I learned something. Failure is only an end if we allow it to be. I could’ve hung my head after I realized I failed. I could’ve let that set back beat me down the rest of the day. I could’ve also blamed the students, read them the riot act and then complain about it to my peers. Instead I decided to breathe, reset, and analyze the situation. It was quick. I identified the problem (my own actions), made a corrective decision, and carried out the plan. I’m happy to say that the rest of the math period went very well. I can’t imagine how it would’ve gone if I kept yelling at my students or beat myself up for my shortcomings. Or both.

We don’t allow ourselves to fail enough. In life, we will have failures, but what can happen (not with everyone or all the time) is we shift the blame to someone else, or we tear ourselves down and live in our failure. Failure is a part of life though, and it’s how we grow.

I’ve been getting back into the gym after not going for a while. Yesterday I was doing military presses, a shoulder exercise where you lift the barbell over your head. I had (for me) a decent amount of weight. I told myself I wanted to get five reps. I only got four, and I failed on the fifth attempt. I wasn’t bummed out though. I know now my limitations, and I have a new goal. Besides, my muscles are going to get stronger the more I practice with that weight. I know that four reps will turn into five, which will turn into six, etc. It won’t happen, though, if I beat myself up and quit working out.

You see, we have to fail, but only with the right mindset. A failure only leads to success when we stop, reflect, plan, and execute. The strong bounce back after a failure. The weak quit.

Back to today. Yes, I failed, but so did my students; right after the math lesson where I failed.

We used Ozobots as part of a coding lesson. The task was to create a map that the robots could travel on, while adding codes that would make the robot spin, race fast, turn around, etc.

The map came out pretty cool. It was really elaborate, and the kids payed attention to detail…sort of. When the Ozobots were released, not all of the codes worked. Some of the lines were too close together and the robot got confused and had to be re-calibrated. Some of the lines were too thin, and the bot didn’t recognize the path, which caused it to stop. The kids were frustrated.

At the end of the lesson, I asked if they thought it was a success. Some said it was kind of a success, but most said no. When I asked what went wrong, they were able to tell me all that they noticed and needed to fix. “So, was it really a failure if you learned what was wrong and have a plan to fix it?” “I guess not,” one boy chimed in. “Well it was kind of a failure, but we at least know what we need to do next time,” another student added.

See! That’s what it’s about. The process. Learning. Failure should always point us in the direction of learning and progress. It’s not an end unless we allow it to be. Failure is ultimate if we give up, but when we look at what went wrong and identify a lesson to be learned, it’s not ultimate, it’s just the beginning.

So have you failed lately? If so did you give up, or did you fix, learn, and move on? What lessons did you learn from that mistake? What growth are you seeing from your reflections?

Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t ever quit. Keep learning from your mistakes. Keep growing.



Elijah Carbajal

Educator living and working in Albuquerque, NM. Author of “A Place They Love”. Lover of music. Host of “The Shut Up and Teach Podcast”.