It might make sense to think that if a kid is a really great student, they’d probably make a great teacher. Right? They know how to play the school “game” well—getting assignments in on time and following directions. But hear me out, the worst students make better teachers, and here’s why:
When their own school experience wasn’t easy, teachers tend to look at school success differently
Good grades and appropriate participation define school success for most people. So when we think of good students, we’re typically looking at straight-As and quiet children waiting their turn with hands raised. We all know it’s more than that, but often the other things are more difficult to quantify and get lost in the shuffle. Children who talk about happy school experiences rarely mention their grades. They talk about something funny a friend said, a teacher’s act of kindness, and unexpected experiences like field trips or cooking in class. Teachers who didn’t get good grades or have patience in class as children often go out of their way to make sure students feel welcome in different ways.
When outside-of-school circumstances made school more difficult for them as students, teachers remember to check in personally with their students
My parents got divorced when I was in kindergarten. I know how hard it was to balance separate households. And I know there is an unnamed shame about having divorced parents. This means kids who believe their lives are different from what they assume is happening at other kids’ houses have an added barrier to learning. Their minds are occupied in other ways before they even arrive for the day. And let’s face it, that’s probably a lot of kids. When I remember to ask Kailey if her dad is home from his month-long trip to Asia, she lights up and tells me. When I ask Jeremiah if the egg on his shirt was delicious this morning and if his grandmother made it, he has the opportunity to tell me about it. Being able to tell a trusted grown-up something about your life feels amazing and lets your brain focus on school instead of home.
Teachers who felt confused in class as students don’t assume anything
When I was in school, some learning was easy for me. If I saw a word written, I could always tell if it was spelled correctly or not. That said, lots of school experiences were difficult for me. I didn’t always understand how the social interactions worked. Also, when I did well on a test, I had no idea why. I did things like highlight everything in a textbook. As a teacher, I used these experiences to inform my work with students. Hindsight, though, is only 20/20 when we consider and learn from our experiences. I work hard to assume nothing anymore. Whether it’s how to line up, sharpen a pencil, or study for a spelling test. This means that sometimes I have to teach myself new ways to teach the same thing.
Teachers who had trouble paying attention as a student tend to know what unfocused kids need
I was always the one whispering to my friends during directions, which resulted in not knowing how to respond when the teacher asked me a question. I often felt bewildered about how other students did so well in school. How come they’re all getting right to work, I wondered. I confess to still having this issue in my work life. My colleagues will attest to the fact that I always private message them, what are we doing? As a teacher, I work hard to explicitly teach the strategies and behaviors that demystify this issue. Most importantly, I tell kids not to avoid the experience just because they weren’t paying attention at first. Realistically, it’s not usually until we need to use information that we decide to pay closer attention. Paying attention before you know if you’ll need it, requires skill and strategy. Since it confused me when I was a student, I want to make sure the kids in my class understand exactly what behaviors and strategies can help them know what’s going on. Sometimes I feel like I spend equal time teaching the curriculum as I do teaching skills and strategies. This is what I wish more people understood, how much time it takes to get kids to a place where they can learn and use their learning. Coaches understand this, as well.
Better coaches tend to be the ones who weren’t naturally skilled
Watch good coaches. They assess all team strengths, from agility to kindness. Good coaches rework a play to make sure every senior on the team scores in a game. Why? Because they know how it felt to never score in a game. When we haven’t been superstars, we might have wished someone noticed us. Or we might have had someone notice us and vowed to make that happen for other students. It can be tempting to play the star athletes more and give them all the attention, but it’s not what teaches kids how to rely on each other for the different strengths on a team.
Ultimately, I just think we understand every kind of student more clearly when we’ve had our own struggles and worked them out or been helped. Of course, this doesn’t mean that good students don’t make good teachers. But being a poor student and figuring out how to be successful anyway informs your teaching in an important way.
Want to think more about how you manage your classroom? Read The Secret to Classroom Management—No Matter Where You Teach.