Why I Tell My Students I Love It When They Struggle

By Luke Reynolds, author of Fantastic Failures

After teaching middle and high school English in public schools for many years, I now work preparing people who are going to become teachers—which is a little like peering into the future. As I see college juniors and seniors sitting before me, I can picture them in front of their own classrooms, the ways they’ll talk to kids, the activities they’ll plan, and the lives they’ll change for the better.

And while I hope they take away many ideas and possibilities from our time together, I consistently tell them that there is one key belief I hope they keep closest to their heads and hearts: struggle can profoundly grow us if we do it as someone who hopes and asks for help through it.

When my own college students struggle with a practice lesson they’ve planned, and it goes awfully awry in the elementary or secondary classroom where they deliver it, I tell them it’s an exciting opportunity. At first, they look at me as though I’ve lost my mind.

Then their incredulity increases when I start saying things like, “Flops are so important!” and “It is awesome that you got to see how that classroom management strategy went totally bonkers!”

With their expressions, they ask if I’m aware that my job is to prepare them to be effective educators, not ineffective ones.

And I give my response to them in a high-five, a fist-bump, an arm tap, and then an excited gesture towards the planning board again. Now we’re becoming teachers. Now we’re going to be resilient, hopeful, and effective.

Because we are only going to be as good as the amount of mistakes we’ve made along the way. When I think about my own three sons, I want them to have teachers who have tried lots of possibilities, risks, projects, assignments, techniques, and hopes. I want my own sons to have teachers who have tried a lot, seen what doesn’t work, and come back to the front of the classroom the next day more seasoned, more hopeful, and more committed.

If we let it, failure can teach us more about who we are and where we’re going. If we fail in the context of people who can encourage us and tell us we’re not alone, then it can enable us to take a few steps along the trajectory of who we really are.

This is the message of Fantastic Failures: True Stories of People Who Changed the World by Falling Down First.It’s a book aimed at helping us see that mistakes are both normal and necessary. What we need is not to get it right the first time, all the time. Instead, what we need are people who can champion and believe in us until we do.



Luke Reynolds

Luke Reynolds taught in public schools for many years before becoming an assistant professor of education at Endicott College. His is the author of Fantastic FailuresSurviving Middle School, The Looney Experiment, and the picture books If My Love Were a Fire Truck and Bedtime Blastoff! He and his wife, Jennifer, have three sons. lukewreynolds.com


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