The Reset Button: Why We Need to Experience Failure to Reach Success

Leah Clark Life in the Classroom

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My husband, Tyler, plays video games when he has a free moment on the weekends. While I have no desire to pick up an XBox controller, I mindlessly listen while grading a stack of papers or finishing a chore as he plays the latest game. What fascinates me is the idea that he can just start over whether he wins or loses. He literally gets to hit the reset button on his player’s fantasy life. Why can’t real life be that way? Why can’t we just get to start over whenever we feel like we aren’t going to win or at least get a do-over when we lose? As we head into the last quarter of the year, I wish real life had a reset button.

While we can’t completely start our life over, as teachers we have the priceless opportunity to hit the reset button every August. Every year we get a new batch of students who haven’t seen the flopped lessons or less than stellar activities. This is one of the perks of our profession.

This year I took on a new prep, sophomore honors English, and now more than ever do I wish I could hit the reset button. When we take on a new prep, a new unit, or even a new lesson or strategy, we put ourselves out there and take a chance. Sometimes we hit the target and the kids meet or exceed our goals and other times, we fall face first and our kids have no idea what we wanted them to do or how to get there.

This is how I feel about my honors class this year. Some lessons were flawlessly executed while others crashed and burned. And what I have really struggled with is the expectation to be the perfect teacher daily. The kids are bright, motivated, and engaging and I want to be an effective teacher for them. However, everything I teach is new to me. I haven’t taught A Tale of Two Cities or Julius Caesar before and certainly never prepared kids to move onto Advanced Placement classes next year. I am vulnerable as the new kid on the block. The kids know it and I certainly know it.

I also compare myself to the other teachers who teach or have taught this course before. They’ve had their reset button and I’m anxiously awaiting mine. I keep telling myself, “Next year will be better. You will have the knowledge and experience that will help smooth out the clunky lessons, redesign units that didn’t meet your goal, and you will have the confidence that you know what you are doing.”

I think the best way to combat the lack of reset buttons in teaching involves two key ideas. First, we must reflect on our practice consistently and use this knowledge to make changes along the way. While I can’t go back to the first day of school and reteach my kids, I can constantly take what I know about them and our learning goals to make future decisions about content and curriculum. Second, we must be humble and show our students humility. We need to acknowledge when a lesson or activity just plain stunk. When we try to always appear “perfect” our kids see right through it. We must model that we are human and we make mistakes and learning from our mistakes is what makes us grow and develop. We know they will make mistakes, why can’t we?

With just over a quarter of the year to go, I am excited to get my reset button in August, but I also appreciate the road it takes to get there. Without the real life fails, we would never get to experience the real life successes.


Leah Clark

Phoenix, Arizona

I joined the teaching profession after spending several years in luxury retail. While the free clothes and handbags were definite job perks, I felt burned out and tired of long hours, weekends and holidays. So, I went back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I love my job!
My teaching philosophy is simple: Do what’s best for kids. While it’s not eloquent, this humble phrase directs every decision I make about teaching and students. As a Language Arts teacher at a central Phoenix high school, it’s my honor and passion to create opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, create and connect with one another and the world around them.
When I am not grading a stack of essays, planning a new lesson, or chaperoning a school dance, I love riding my yellow Huffy bicycle around town, sampling a new restaurant, and traveling to Flagstaff with my husband.

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  • Jen Robinson

    Thanks for sharing this post Lisa. You bring up an interesting topic, hitting the reset button. I wonder what school might be like if we hit the reset button every day. What if we washed the slate clean so to speak and went in with the mindset of “new” and shifted to possibilities everyday. After all we get to do this important work every day, why not start by hitting reset every day.

    • Leah Clark

      Yes! I totally agree. I try to reset each day, even each class period. But I also am looking back retrospectively with my curriculum. I wish I could go back and make “big picture” changes. I am working on a blog post where I did make big changes recently about half way through a unit. Stay tuned! I am excited to write about that experience.

  • Donnie Lee

    I love being able to hit the reset button and start fresh every year. All of the worries, stresses, and frustrations from the previous year were gone and the new year could be whatever you made it. I agree with you though that I wish that the reset button was more available during the school year. I have stopped lessons because they were bombing in the class.

    • Leah Clark

      I have stopped lessons too! Sometimes what have in our mind and in our plans don’t match up! That takes courage!