You’re an Anointed Teacher: Part 2: Becoming Divine Failures
We are anointed, and everybody in the building is better precisely because we are in there, molding and shaping hearts and minds, even as we are molded and remolded in the image of our Lord.
Overwhelm your school community with your awesome.
My favorite moment in Star Wars is when Luke Skywalker is training to be a Jedi with Master Yoda on the swamp planet of Dagobah. Luke’s ship sinks underwater and he tries in vain to use the power of the force to lift his ship up on solid ground. Dejected, Luke gives up. In a powerful scene that sits rent free in my head, Yoda closes his eyes, extends a hand, and composer John Williams’s musical magic stirs in the background as Yoda lifts the X-Wing fighter out of the water.
Luke is awestruck—we all are. Luke says, “I don’t…I don’t believe it.”
Yoda replies: “That is why you fail.”
Teacher friends, as anointed educators, we need to learn how to walk through seasons of failure. We need to know what it feels like to fall and to lose. Some of my worst days in the building were days when I was operating with the wrong definition of failure. Failure is the fertilizer of success. To fail is one step closer to being a success. I always wondered why we don’t put our failures on our resumes, given how important failing is to succeeding. While I am thoroughly satisfied with my resume these days, I am equally grateful for the mistake-riddled, failure-laden shadow of that resume.
It’s not my favorite Malcolm X quote, but this one resonated deeply with me when I was a budding, anointed teacher who had grandiose dreams of being great without doing any of the failing required to be great:
Malcolm X said, “If I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth…then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.”
Not only was I operating with the wrong definition of failure, but I also realized that I had the wrong theology of failure. Faith and failure are intimately connected. The Hebrew scriptures are filled with colossal failures who were leaning on the everlasting arms of God. Whenever I have failed, my faith in God says, “I’m going to take the next step anyway.” There’s a risk to having faith. In fact, you can replace the word faith with risk! I have risk in God, I walk by risk and not by sight, and even my worst failures never separated me from the love of God.
The anointed teacher understands that where there is no potential for failure, there is no faith. I worry that some teachers have never known failure. Possessed with perfectionism and other frailties, they were gifted and talented students, A plus students through and through. They dotted all of their I’s and crossed all of their T’s. They worshiped the written word. They can write an essay overnight. They won all of the honors and awards. They were flawless and untouchable. They accumulated all of this impressive educational privilege, and attended all of the best schools. But the minute they stepped into a poor, under-resourced school, it hit them like a freight train. Oh, no. I have never known failure. How can I possibly help children navigate failure? How can we show compassion for students who are struggling if we have never known struggle or loss?
Anointed teachers are effective because they have gotten quite adept at failing. We know that it is in our failures that we find God’s provision. We who have fallen to the very bottom of the pit know that that is the moment when God will come for us.
My challenge for teachers today is to lean into this idea of becoming divine failures. In your failure, God develops who you are and puts you in a place of reflection. I cannot overstate the importance of having a reflective practice. Fail hard and fail often, then write all about it!
More importantly, let the children in your care see you fail, be vulnerable about it, and show them what it looks like to fall gracefully, to mess up gloriously, then cultivate a culture of error and mistakes. Model what it looks like to fall down and rise again. You’re not the supreme omniscient lord of all knowledge holding all the golden keys. Paolo Freire and bell hooks invite us to step down from the dais, stop holding court, and fail like the rest of us.
Show students that the more we fail, the more resilient we become, the more confident, the more patient, the more flexible. Failing adjusts our spiritual vision so that we can see possibility and opportunity. It gives us the vision to forgive those who didn’t believe in us in the midst of our failing.
I had a student who kept running out of my class. The entire building had to go on red alert every time this student tried to run out of my class. I had to stand by the door to teach Mathematics while other students handled my laptop, my projector, handed out materials, and directed instruction. I felt ashamed. I was so fixated on the runner that I didn’t appreciate the other students effectively running the class. Folks in the building were saying I wasn’t tough enough. I’m not a disciplinarian. “But you’re a man,” a colleague told me. “Classroom management is supposed to be easier for you.”
I reflected. Another fail, but maybe not. The Spirit of God is at work in the lives of our students, and we cannot always see that work. If we did, we would probably give ourselves the credit. We can only be grateful that we had a small role to play in their life stories. We’re just a speck in God’s kaleidoscopic vision for that child, and maybe so much more. We’ll never know! So go ahead and run out of my class all you want, but you cannot escape God’s epic destiny for your life.
I had the wrong definition of failure, the wrong theology of failure, and now I had the wrong perception of failure. I learned from wonderful mentors that how we perceive failure determines how great we’re going to be, or how mediocre we’re going to be in the classroom. For a very long time, I perceived failure as an epidemic infecting my circumstances, but by the grace of God, being good at failing made me more faithful to God, and if we’re more faithful, then it becomes increasingly difficult to fail if we believe that we are worth more than our circumstances.
The anointed teacher understands (no matter how long it takes for it to click) that only “the teacher can grade your paper.” Only the Lord can grade us, and what a joy it is to know that God doesn’t measure us the way other people in the building measure us.
Besides, failing is only one moment in time. If your balloon popped, why are you still walking around with the string? Let go of the string of that busted balloon, and get another balloon!
Oswald Chambers wrote, “If we believe in Jesus, it is not what we gain but what He pours through us that really counts. God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us. Our spiritual life cannot be measured by success as the world measures it, but only by what God pours through us
— and we cannot measure that at all.”