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Why is struggling in school important for a future teacher?

Like most teachers, I did well in school. The system was set-up in such a way that it just worked for me. I liked routines and structure and clear expectations. I wasn’t the brightest, but I certainly wasn’t the struggling student in my class. I knew in elementary school there were turtle and rabbit groups, but I didn’t know what that really meant. I guess that’s the privilege of being a rabbit. High school allowed me to be in enrichment classes where I was placed with other students who had a similar quirky approach to their learning; those kids who were given a project or assignment and just ran with it. However, it was also in high school where I learned that I wasn’t good at everything.


But as a good student, it was a harsh reality to learn that some courses weren’t coming easily to me any more. It was also the first place where I really began to notice what teachers were doing as teachers and how that impacted student learning.

Struggling in a class was the most valuable learning I could have had as a future educator. Suddenly, I was having to focus on the process, not the product. I was suddenly afraid to be called on in the class. I was now aware that some teachers could explain their subject to others and some really could not.

I struggled again in my first year of university. Attending a lecture that was void of discussion, questions from the audience, and lacked any relationship between instructor and student did not work for me. And, definitely, completing multiple choice tests and exams were NOT successful for me. But, again, this was good learning for me. It reminds me that there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach in education that will be successful.

Now as a classroom teacher, it’s important for me to be reflective on what the needs are of those who aren’t achieving an A in my classroom. It’s easy to teach the kids who “get it” and who enjoy the subject matter the way that I do. But what am I doing for those in the middle and for those who are failing?

I’m a reflective practitioner. I’m intentional and thoughtful in what I do. I’m open to being “wrong” or “failing” as an instructor as I’m also willing to do the work to get better. I use the data of student achievement in my classroom. I use student voice to guide some of the delivery of the content. And I’m grateful that I work in a place where my curriculum is about skills, not a set content that I have to cover. Why? Because it frees me to focus on moving everyone along on the skills continuum without the pressure of a time crunch of content being missed. I can choose my materials to be more in alignment with interests because I’m using it for skills, not recall of facts for an exam. This allows me to be a better teacher for the whole classroom.

Being aware that not everyone finds what we’re doing “easy” or “natural” forces me to be able to explain steps and strategies in a variety of ways. It causes me to examine the relationships I have with students to see if I’m hearing and addressing their needs as a learner. It also means I need a variety of ways for students to show their learning for the skill to be measured.

Not everyone will like my subject. That’s not on me. But, it is on me if they don’t know what to do, how to do it, and why it matters.

Not everyone will end up with an A but they will know and be able to articulate what they still need to work on for improvement next time they are asked to use this skill.

Struggling is important as is being resilient. We need to work on it being okay for students to struggle if it is leading to progress. We also need to help students who are struggling to reframe thinking.

I failed and I got better. Isn’t that what we want as the outcome?

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