SoDak it Hurts

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 31 2011

Failing Well

This year at the One Act Play Regional Competition, we didn’t fare as well as we did last year.

Actually, we did pretty badly: 5th out of 6 schools competing. I remember telling myself early that morning before I cranked the bus to pick up the shivering actors: simply taking the kids out to compete is important, let everything else go.

Hours later, we huddled together in a dressing room and went through some breathing exercises. We lost three of our seniors last year and for 75% of the cast, this was their first time on stage – they were nervous. As we exhaled, I heard one of the girls say that she was trying to breathe all of the butterflies out.

No! I told her, Leave them in. Those butterflies tell us we’re doing something new, that we’re taking a risk. We’ve decided to do something together few people have the courage to do – we’re telling a story from inside of us to people we’ve never met. Leave the butterflies in – you’ll never forget the feeling you feel right now.

There is something to be said for excellence, for being perfect and understanding the reward of discipline. That’s a good lesson I hope to teach these students – but we can’t teach that lesson every time. I think each situation unfolds an opportunity to show them something different. This time it was about the importance of initial risk, of taking a step forward, of beginning, of walking out underneath the lights and telling our story to an auditorium full of strangers.

I think Carol Muske-Dukes describes this risk perfectly in her poem, Ovation:

Now I think I feel the heat you

must have felt rising from the front rows.
A gaping fire door, a furnace:
your single body standing here
with no shadow, swinging on itself.

Had you been a fool, you might have thought
that they loved you. They never love you,
you said. They are hungry for the god
in his gold eclipse, the pure you on fire.

We might swing another run to state someday, but we learned the importance of taking a first step this year.

I’ll take that.

6 Responses

  1. steven harrell

    teachers teach brother, no matter what goes on outside. keep it up.

  2. Dana

    I’m so proud of them for facing their fears. I love the comment regarding the butterflies and how they represented stepping out into something new and unknown…I think we could all stand to have some butterflies every now and then.

  3. Alexa Talamo

    I’m glad you reflect on the ‘failures’ as well as the successes. I learned this lesson at my first speech competition; the kids were dismally ill-prepared. I felt sick taking them to the competition– but every one I took was awarded a prize, for sheer lack of other participants. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that– whether you feel prepared or not– you have to show up. I am half convinced that the majority of the magic of existence is being present– realizing you have everything inside you that you need ALREADY– and not to wait until you feel braver, stronger, smarter, etc. to start walking the path you want to be on.

  4. Priest

    Proud of you brother, can’t wait to see Mission in a couple of weeks.

  5. Nathanael

    In the words of that great philosopher and thinker of our age, Mily Cirus, “It’s all about The Climb.”

  6. Sig Gains | SoDak it Hurts linked to this post.

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About this Blog

I taught 10th Grade English on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota between 2009 and 2011. Currently blogging at

South Dakota
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