Teach like a scientist


As I am polishing my keynote speech for the WAFLT conference on November 4-5, it has become obvious that the topic I am speaking on is not limited to language teachers… we all need to lift our eyes up from what we’ve always done and embrace the idea of failure.

I have publicly stated on many occasions that I did not achieve National Board certification on my first attempt.  I was so sad/angry/self-loathing that I almost didn’t retake but my background in science pushed me to try again… you see, for scientists, failure isn’t an end.  It just means that ONE theory was wrong.  There are millions of theories out there to try.  I went into my second attempt at certification with some new tools in my teaching belt and passed!

I have been a hardliner.  There was a time when every spelling, every accent, every verb ending was a point off.  It left me feeling like I was missing something and it left my students feeling like they weren’t cut out to learn language.  I feared trying new things because I might not be good at it or the activity might flop.

After my “big failure” I left those hardliner days behind…. and do you know what?  My classroom is 180 degrees from where it was then.  I love going to work, my students have fun and learn all at the same time… I try new things (some are still flops) and encourage colleagues to do so as well.

Listen when I say that IF I HADN’T FAILED, I WOULD NEVER HAVE CHANGED!! What?  Seriously, I was comfortable in my rut and only when I was pushed out did I take some much needed steps to re-invigorate my attitude and to win students for languages.

Don’t look at your failures as an end.  Think like a scientist.  This didn’t work so what will I try next???  But don’t stop there.  You can’t expect your students not to fail.  Give them that re-take.  Explain a concept again if they didn’t get it the first time.  Take more drafts of that writing.  Our goal is to build their proficiency so giving them repeated exposure to the content is a great way to do it!!

My biggest failure was the first step of my biggest successes.  Don’t be afraid to try, try, and try again.


  1. Your transparency about past failures and how you embraced the pain and humiliation of not living up to your view of yourself will help more people. Thank you. And I’m glad you and your students are having fun. Me as well this my 26 th yr teaching French

  2. It was great to hear you speak at our conference. I am working on integrating tprs and moving away from the copy and paste mentality of repeating lessons.

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