Crashing the Teaching Party: Lessons Learned from Failure Part I

Party Crasher Definition: A metaphor used by Allan James Moore to describe a person who does not accept the station society has given them in life. They endeavor to access the spaces, organizations universities, clubs (aka “the Party”) etc. that are ‘invite only’ despite not having an invitation.

Teaching’s Easy! Right?

I had just arrived in Taichung. Taiwan and had managed to get myself onto a substitute teachers list for an after-school English school. Little did I know that this opportunity would become a crash course in humility and resilience. It taught me invaluable lessons about failure along the way.

I stepped into the role of a substitute teacher. I was armed with nothing but a vague understanding of English grammar and a penchant for improvisation. But I quickly realized that my self-assured facade was about to be shattered. A few days later the principal called me in a panic. “How quickly can you be at the school? One of my teachers became violently ill after lunch and I have no one to fill his last class of the day.” I jumped on my banged up, duct-taped 50cc scooter and set off thinking I looked like Henry Fonda in Easy Rider, but likely more like Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber.

The principal received me enthusiastically out front of the school. “Hi Al. So glad you could make it on such short notice. The class starts in one minute and since I haven’t given you any time to prepare, I’ll make it easy on you. They’re a great bunch of 12-year-old students. Just teach them what an objective pronoun is for this 1-hour class. I mean, obviously you know what an objective pronoun is right?” I smiled and responded with a chuckle saying “Of course I know what an Objective Pronoun is. I mean who doesn’t?” “I DOESN’T! That’s who!” I’d even forgotten what a pronoun was in the ten years since I’d last studied English grammar…poorly I might add.

Fake it Till Ya Break it!

I had to make up the definition on the spot. I felt like my made-up definition was correct, but after the class I found that I was very wrong. Despite the embarrassment, there were moments of innovation and improvisation that illuminated the path forward. I discovered in the midst of this failure my ability to think on my feet and connect with students on a deeper level beyond the confines of a textbook.

I was not asked back to the school as the principal was not as enthusiastic about my discovery. But this failure was not the end of the road but a detour towards growth and self-discovery. I was prompted by this teaching failure to get the pedagogical training I needed. If I hadn’t failed on my first try at teaching I would not have taken the training that turned me into a decent teacher.

I reflected on my misadventures in teaching and realized that failure is an indispensable teacher. A harsh yet fair mentor on the journey to success. Failure forces us to confront our shortcomings, to acknowledge our vulnerabilities, and to emerge stronger, wiser from the experience. We have two choices in the face of failure: to wallow in defeat or to rise above it with grace and resilience. I chose the latter, recognizing that every stumble was an opportunity to learn and grow.

There’s a Crash; but also a Party!

But Party Crashers do not just aim to improve on the negative aspects of the failure. They also look at and appreciate the positive aspects involved. The term Party-Crasher can be split into two parts when looking at the failure retrospectively. First we accept that there was a rather uncomfortable ‘crash’ that occurred, but there was also a ‘party’ aspect. This is where some of the positives from the failure can be celebrated and built upon.

I learned the importance of embracing vulnerability from my teaching misadventure. I managed to unearth my hidden strengths and talents through my moments of uncertainty and self-doubt. Just as a diamond is forged under immense pressure, so too are our greatest abilities honed in the crucible of failure.

© 2024, Allan James Moore. All Rights Reserved.