I Am a Failure …

As a typical “Type A” music educator, and one who has ADHD to boot, these are words that have been DEVASTATING to me in the not so far away past. And because I am a human being, sometimes I am going to fail. How I choose to respond to that failure makes all the difference in how I process and learn from that failure and move forward.

Two years ago, I was excited to present a workshop out west. I had worked really hard to prepare and had loads of lessons and techniques to share. I was proud of the content I had to offer. As the workshop drew near, there was an emergency that caused the workshop to be rescheduled to the Saturday after my spring break. I had a fantastic trip to New Orleans with my husband planed for break, so I flew home from my vacation, and got on the plane for my session the next day. I failed to consider the effect spending a week in New Orleans below sea level and then traveling to the mountains out west in a 24-hour period would impact my body. I regularly hike at high elevations and have suffered only mild headaches; this time would be different. As I began the presentation my body started shutting down. I kept having to run to the bathroom to vomit. I tried laying down during the break, when I returned I patted my legs and they buckled from the elevation sickness. It felt like the WORST flu I had ever experienced. I did my level best to continue on, and I physically could not. I had to admit that I could not continue. I was devastated and ashamed. Many of the participants had traveled long distances to attend, and the Orff Chapter paid for my flight and hotel room. I had let them down. Later, when I was finally feeling better, the chapter president came by to check on me. I was so embarrassed and upset that I just kept talking really fast and apologizing over and over, which was not at all helpful. I did not handle it well.

Reflecting on the experience, there were some really beautiful things that I experienced from this “failure.”

  • First, the folks from the chapter were so gracious and helpful. When I admitted that I could not continue, one member thanked me for taking care of myself. Another offered medicine to help with the elevation sickness. The women who drove me home told me that she was going to make me stop the workshop if I threw up one more time. They cared about me as a human, not just as a presenter and what I had to offer them. What a gift they gave to me. I think back on how they cared for me often.
  • Secondly, I am a human being and I need to listen to what my body needs. This revelation has extended to every aspect of my life. As music educators we take care of everyone. Our families, our students, our pets, other teachers, our homes, our classrooms and we strive to meet the wants and needs of everyone around us. If my needs are not met, I cannot effectively meet the needs of others. Taking care of my body is not selfish. I can do a better job of what is most important, and not worry so much about what isn’t important when I am healthy and well rested.
  • Lastly, sometimes things just happen, and it is not my fault and I can’t “fix It.” There was nothing I could have done in this situation to make it through the presentation. It just happened, there was no way to fix it. I spent WEEKS after this incident beating myself up and “shoulding” myself. I should have cancelled my vacation, I should have rambled less when I was feeling better, I should have drunk more water….none of these thoughts were at all helpful and I was miserable and upset for nothing. Now I have learned to acknowledge the situation, repair what I can and then move on. Being gentle with myself has made me feel better all the way around.

I am writing about this now, because a lot of us are feeling like failures. For most of us nothing is happening in any way like we have been used to and many of us are working with constantly evolving situations that make feeling successful a challenge.

  • Let’s look for the beauty in our challenge when we can find it. It may be hidden and it is worth the search.
  • Listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs. Eat well, sleep as well as you can. Rest when you need to, participate in joyful movement, find quiet when you need to recharge.
  • Recognize what is in our control and let the rest go if you are not feeling your best. If you are choosing to exert influence in areas that are not in your direct control, have reasonable expectations for your work.

We are not “failing” right now, we are learning. Learning to live and teach in a new and different way will take a lot of mistakes and practice. What are you doing to keep yourself healthy and learning this year? Leave your thoughts in the comments so we can all Make it Work.

Self Love

LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Lissa Ray on January 7, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    I needed to read this today. I experienced a terrible horrible, no good music class today through failed technology and it was a really deflating experience. I’m sure the kids learned nothing about music, Thank you for sharing. ❤️

    • LeslieAnne Bird on February 12, 2021 at 4:45 pm

      We all have days like that, even in Australia. You are so welcome Lissa

  2. Becky on January 7, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    I am feeling like a terrible failure because I let a remote learner fall through the cracks. Although there were other people who should have caught this as well, my admin seems to have laid it at my feet, and I have been given remedial work that feels insulting to me as a veteran teacher who has never before had a problem like this. I am struggling mightily with forgiving myself while being overly defensive. Thanks for the reminder that mistakes will happen. I’ve put backups in place but I wish my boss would offer help that’s needed instead of “help” that makes me feel like a failure.

    • LeslieAnne Bird on February 12, 2021 at 4:47 pm

      I am sorry that happened Becky. With everything being so new and different things like this happen. Do your best to repair, and then allow yourself some grace. I am often reminded to treat myself they way I would if one of my students were in the situation I find myself in. Be well.

  3. Maria Pflegl on January 7, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    This is so transparent and honest and true. Thank you for your wisdom and insight.
    PS note to self take a self care day – it’s A ok.

  4. Diana Landis on January 7, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    Thank you for your honesty to share such a personal experience and one that everyone can relate to. Your article really encouraged me to not be afraid to stop and rest. The learning curve this past year has been so steep. I know that we will look back some day and be so amazed at our personal growth and be so grateful that we kept the music alive for so many kids. Gratefully, Diana Landis

    • LeslieAnne Bird on February 12, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Rest is so important and it is something that we rarely allow ourselves as music educators. I have begun to schedule my rest, and prioritize my needs. I am able to show up for my students in a relaxed and genuine way when I am feeling like a human.

  5. Colleen Griepentrog on January 8, 2021 at 7:46 am

    Thank you so much. What an insightful and helpful article. 🙂

  6. Sarah Schacherer on January 8, 2021 at 8:00 am

    Thank you for your honesty and for sharing such helpful reminders for all of us! This is much needed in a time when, as you said, many of us feel like we are “failing”. Reading this on a Friday morning after a long week was just what I needed!

  7. Bobbi Jo Boggs on January 8, 2021 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. I was very encouraged by your words. I believe that I am a “good music teacher”, but teaching online has challenged me. I have probably said that “I am a failure” far too often throughout this. I will incorporate the look, listen, and recognize bullet points to keep the “failure” monster away.

  8. Aimee on January 9, 2021 at 1:34 am

    Thank you – I needed to hear this today. A colleague called me on something publicly and though I needed to hear it, the public shaming and criticism stung. I felt like a dismal failure – and a public one. I will look for the roses among the thorns.

    • LeslieAnne Bird on February 12, 2021 at 7:52 pm

      That has happened to me too. I am working to learn, do better, repair and extend grace to myself as I move forward. It is not easy.

  9. Chelsea Thiel on January 12, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    Thank you for this, LeslieAnne. I definitely needed this article today. I think I will bookmark it for future tough days. It is a lovely reminder to stay grounded and breathe. Sending you and everyone who is struggling through this school year lots of love.

    • LeslieAnne Bird on February 12, 2021 at 7:52 pm

      Thank you for this lovely comment. It made my day.

  10. Amy on January 13, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you, LeslieAnn, for your heartfelt and honest account of your experience. I feel like a failure almost daily both remotely and in person. I’m teaching on a cart this year. My music room is now a cafeteria. To say this has been a challenging year, both physically and mentally, is an understatement. I’m going to listen to my body and do more self care this semester. I’m going to stop beating myself up for things out of my control. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

    • LeslieAnne Bird on February 12, 2021 at 7:54 pm

      Learning what we can control, what we are able to but effort into to change and letting the other things go is valuable. You got this.

  11. Rachelle Hugg on January 27, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I needed to be reminded and I know so many people right now who also need this reminder. Thank you for your honesty and encouragement! I hope it is OK if I share your post.

  12. LeslieAnne Bird on February 12, 2021 at 7:55 pm

    I love that you are sharing the post! That is why they are here. I need to remind myself too.

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