Why Failure is the Secret to Success

(And Why Teaching is Harder Than it Looks)

Posted by Jonathan Sekela on November 1, 2017

If you’ve read my previous blogs then you know that I’ve been fascinated with China since I was three years old. I can’t quite put a finger on why – the language, the culture, and the geography all just draw me in. Because of this fascination, when I graduated college, I didn’t apply for any technology jobs in the United States. I actually applied for a teaching job with EF EnglishFirst in China.

Before this point, the only teaching experience I’d ever had was one-on-one tutoring for a C++ class during my senior year. I was woefully underqualified to teach anyone’s children, much less children who didn’t even speak the same language!

Despite this, I had two significant advantages over the competition:

  1. I am an American. Those four words are so near and dear to my heart partially because they helped me achieve my dream – I got to come to China and live for a whole year simply because of where I’m from. Is this fair? Absolutely not. Am I thankful for it? Absolutely.
  2. Reason two is even more important than reason one: I was willing to try and willing to risk failure. I have had this same conversation with my EF recruiter, my Director of Studies, and several of my colleagues. They always the same thing: the willingness to try, to mess up and keep going, is paramount to success.

On a similar note, do you know the difference between teaching Chinese children English and coding in C++? Ironically, it’s not the language barrier – the kids usually respond much better than the computer (read: sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing when I code). The difference is that, when building an app, if you mess up, you can go back and fix it. You can make sure everything’s perfect before you release your baby into the wide world. When teaching, if you mess up, you can’t go back and fix it – you have to keep going.

It’s Your Show!

That’s stressful, especially since I can’t google solutions mid-class or experiment for 30 minutes on different teaching algorithms (they exist, by the way – Task-Teach-Task, Present-Practice-Produce, teaching is basically high-performance parallel computing). Teaching class is a performance. The show must go on!

Sometimes, you’re going to do something and it’s just not going to work. You’ll be frustrated, people will be confused or disappointed, and you’ll feel like quitting. Keep trying! Believe in yourself! Even when what you’re doing is obviously wrong, all it takes is a bit of perseverance and improvisation and you can still turn it around and succeed!

At this point, every class I teach is a learning experience for both student and teacher. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope you can keep learning and enjoying the lessons as well. Good luck!