Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Sometimes I fail.

I try to keep this secret. Not because I try to portray myself as a superhuman, able to juggle all my balls while balancing on a unicycle and reciting the first 100 numerals in pi. I just really hate failing. I don't like it. It's why I don't play chess.

Seriously. My dad always beat me when we played chess. So I stopped playing.

I've written before about the fact that what I do is hard, that it takes a lot of work to write my own lesson plans, a lot of energy to teach interactively and inventively, and a lot of research to stop using a textbook.

I rarely mention failing. But I do fail.

Sometimes a little.

Sometimes catastrophically.

And I fail in the classroom. Sometimes a little. Sometimes catastrophically.

Sometimes I get an idea and I think it's a really cool idea and I think my students are going to love it and it's going to revolutionize how they think about Latin and I explain it and I'm super energetic and my students are picking up on my energy and I want it to succeed and they want it to succeed because I want it to succeed and it. just. doesn't. It falls flat. In fact, I spend maybe thirty minutes untangling their Latin because instead of improving their understanding, I have instead tied their Latin knowledge into knots rivaling the Gordian knot that stumped all but Alexander the Great.

That is catastrophic failure, and I have known it.

And I usually keep it secret from you.

The wisest Jedi, Yoda is.
(You can get the poster here if you want.)
But here's the catch. When I fail like that, I generally apologize to my students. I explain my intent, and laugh at my result. I show them how to fail gracefully. And then I show them how to get back up and try again. I come up with a new approach, usually much more successful (after all, I definitely know how NOT to teach the subject now), and we try again, and we move on.

We celebrate my failures in class, we celebrate their failures in class, and we learn, and we move on.

I was at a presentation last February, and a woman sitting near the front used the phrase "fail forward." I think that is the perfect life philosophy, and definitely an important teaching philosophy. In developing a classroom culture, it is super important to teach students to value taking risks, and how will they value taking risks if they are afraid of failure?

And in sharing only my successes with all of you, how can I convince you to take risks in your own classes when I won't even trust you with my own risk-taking?

I fail. I fail all the time.

But I try to #failforward every time.