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One of the reasons I struggled with teaching code last year was that the lessons tanked. I felt like I should be able to teach a new concept without struggling. After a decade of teaching, I assumed that I wouldn’t have projects that fell completely flat. For all the talk of “the permission to fail” or how “failure is a good thing,” the truth is I didn’t want to accept that the first try almost always sucks.

The first try almost always sucks.

I hate that reality. I experienced this in working on a first draft of a novel. I knew that I needed to focus on the structure of the story and not fuss over word choice. I knew that keeping it together as a cohesive whole was the only way to get to the fun place of revision. Still, it nagged at me. I kept wondering if it was worth it. I kept worrying that it was a waste of time.

We live in an instant publish world. I write a blog post, find a picture and send it out. Minutes later, it’s tweeted out. I offer my thoughts on Facebook and immediately have notifications of who likes my work. It’s a world where the first draft is the only draft, where everything is publishable and permanent and we have to get it right the first time.

My students inhabit this same world. For all the talk of the growth mindset, they live in a culture that says, “Get it right the first time” rather than “It’s okay to fail the first time.” This is compounded by school policies that make them risk averse. The fact that they can’t retake tests and the reality that most teachers still average grades both work toward a sense that they aren’t allowed to screw up.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Tom Panarese says:

    I'm astounded by the number of parents in my advanced class who are surprised that my students are allowed to rewrite their papers after I grade them. Why wait for the next paper to see if you can do better … why not take my feedback and work with it to improve it right away?

  • Hello Mrs. Spencer,
    I enjoy reading all of your blog post, this post give me so much life and re-ensured me that there is still hope. I also do not like to accept the fact that the first try almost always sucks, but practice makes perfect and I can live with that. I often find myself getting upset when I do not succeed it something on the first try. It was nice to hear those words come out of a teacher’s mouth.

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