Life’s Lessons in a Halloween FAIL

It was October 31, 1997.  My first classroom Halloween party.  As a fourth grade teacher.  It was perhaps my biggest classroom disaster… strike that; it was an epic FAIL.

As the hip, new teacher, I envisioned the best classroom Halloween party those kids had ever seen.  I had been making my list for several weeks before finally meeting with my room mothers.  The school schedule included a 30-minute Trick or Treat parade and a one-hour classroom party, but my ideas for the rest of the day filled several pages of a notebook.

A week before Halloween, my room mothers arrived to discuss the plans.  Excitedly, I shared my vision of a “Spooktacular Celebration” complete with paper mache pumpkins, a reader’s theater production, and a Frankenstein Feast.  As I rattled on with excitement,  the three mothers exchanged glances ranging from concern to fright.

“That is pretty ambitious,” one mother said.  “The kids are pretty wound up….  Are you sure you want to plan an entire Halloween day?”

“This will be awesome!” I said with the enthusiasm that only a first-year teacher has before the first holiday party of the year.  My room mothers left with their to-do lists and worried expressions.  I, on the other hand, was so excited I could hardly contain myself.

The day finally arrived! The Monster Mash song was playing as the kids made their way through the orange and black crepe paper streamers adorning the door.  The Spooktacular Celebration would commence with the kids making Rice Crispy treat creatures so that they had time to chill before the Frankenstein Feast that would be served after lunch and before the readers’ theater production.  By 9:00 am, my classroom was pretty much covered in marshmallow.  I’m certain that there was not one square inch that wasn’t sticky.  M&M’s, licorice, and raisins littered the floor, and there were cookie cutters, spoons, and spatulas everywhere.

At about 9:15, I realized that it was going to be a very long day.  But, we carried on.  My room mothers were troopers.  They were there every step of the way –  setting up the feast, creating scenery for the play, clearing out the room when one of the kids puked, and repairing costumes with safety pins and masking tape – all in time for the parade.

By the time the final bell rang and all of my costumed kiddos were loaded safely on the buses, I assessed the damage. Candy wrappers, crepe paper, and remnants of the paper mache pumpkins were everywhere.  One corner of the room still showed evidence of the sawdust stuff that the janitor sprinkled on the puke, and everything I touched had marshmallow goo on it.  It took me several hours to put my room back together. As I carried my bucket and sponge around the room, I remember thinking that my “Spooktacular Celebration” had turned out to be a colossal disaster. And all of the creative learning experiences that I envisioned for my students?  I think I did all the learning that day.

This was the first of many lessons that I never learned in college.

Professors don’t teach you that paper mache paste and rice crispy treats should never be made on the same day.

They don’t teach you that the candy treats should be “minimally enjoyed” at the end of the day.

They don’t teach you that when a child throws up, every second counts before the gag-reflex sweeps over the room.

They don’t teach you how invaluable volunteers can be, and it’s okay to need help once in awhile.

And they don’t teach you that failing is the foundation for learning.

Some of the most important things I learned as a teacher were never taught in college. And some of the most important things I’ve learned in life sprung out of a  “Wow… what was I thinking” moment.  We’ve all been there… wondering how something that seemed like such a good idea could turn into such a colossal failure!

Perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves is the freedom to take a risk once in awhile without knowing exactly how it will turn out.  Sometimes, we’ll fail. But some things can’t be taught, they just have to be learned.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Look for the teachers in your corner of the world, and show them a little love this week.  Teaching a gaggle of  princesses, witches, cowboys, astronauts and mine craft guys who are  supercharged on an endless supply of sugar is their reality… think about that for a minute.


Dr. Melissa Hughes is the President and Founder of The Andrick Group and the author of Happy Hour with Einstein. She specializes in growing our capacity to learn as well as employee engagement, effective communication strategies, and the unique dynamics of the multi-generational workforce. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, Melissa incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to improve the way we think, learn, communicate and collaborate.


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