A Time for Failure

“Fall down seven times, get up eight,” is a Japanese proverb that I often relay to my students when they experience failure. Many of them see failure as the end of an endeavor, be it a research project, unit test, or the reading or writing state test. I want to teach them that to fail at a task is the beginning of any worthwhile endeavor. Experiencing failure teaches us that we can only get better by continuing to try, that we must learn from what we did incorrectly in order to improve, and to feel that when we do finally experience success, that every step until then was well worth the effort.

Many of my students feel defeated when they fail an assignment or an exam. Their immediate response is to give up, forget it, never try it again. After all, why continue to try if you are only ever going to fail? I tell them that if they do try again, their next failure will be a better one. They often seem confused when I share this. I then tell them that in order to get past this failure, they need to focus on what went wrong the first time and improve it for the next go around. The more they try to reach their goal, the easier it will be to get there, despite experiencing a lack of success at it again and again.

Students need to learn to fail better.

I tell my students about the many successes, and the many more failures, of Thomas Edison. After over 9,000 failures when trying to invent the light bulb (9,000!), Edison was noted as saying, “Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” His 10,000th try gave us the electric light bulb. It is this attitude that I want my middle schoolers to understand.

Middle school students are not always as reflective of their failures as we might like them to be. Many of them do not want to be reminded of the many times it took them to pass a test or how many times they had to try out for the basketball team before finally making it. Reflecting on their failures shows them that every single time they were unsuccessful, they learned something from it to help them improve their next (possible) failure.

Reflection also teaches them that because of their hard work and determination, they got much further with the subsequent failures, bringing them much closer to experiencing success.

In the words of Stanford University psychologist, Albert Bandura, “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.”

Our students need develop a sense of self-efficacy and begin to see the value of making mistakes and how this aids them in their growth as a student and a human being. Believing in themselves and focusing on their past and future successes will help them to “get up eight times” when they “fall down seven.”

Teaching students to build their resiliency and learn from their mistakes is what will help them deal with failure and disappointment as they get older. To keep trying, despite the obstacles, through fortitude and persistence, is the true definition of success.

Failure then, is not the end, but the beginning.


“How Many Times Did Thomas Edison Try to Make the Light Bulb?” 23 Apr. 2008. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. In-line Citation: (“How Many Times Did Thomas Edison Try to Make the Light Bulb?”)


Bibliography: BrainyQuote, 2016. Resilience Quotes at BrainyQuote. BrainyQuote, 2001. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. In-line Citation: (BrainyQuote)


3 thoughts on “A Time for Failure

  1. What a timely post, Vanessa. Your thoughts about failure remind me of a similar conversation I had with a parent this week. Although our contexts are different, the sentiment is similar. I work with students labeled as GT. Often such students have experienced success easily; so, now in middle school where competition may be stiffer, or where they may find a particular teacher or class more challenging than in years past, some students experience set backs in ways they have never known. To them, not winning the award, getting an A, or easy approval means failure. While talking with a parent about these things, it was gratifying to hear your sentiments echoed in their acknowledgement that failure is temporary and merely another opportunity to shine again.


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