Struggling… to Teach Better

In the recent issue of Edutopia (Nov/Dec 2007, Vol. 3, # 8), Mitch Martin describes about how a good teacher must be bad at something to be good at teaching (Mr. Martin’s Oopses, page 10). I must admit – I’ve been thinking about this article a lot lately in both teaching and beyond.

Martin describes his attempts at learning how to play guitar, in how he had juggle practicing with his family and job – all the while feeling the exact frustrations and distractions that his students experience in his classroom.

After reading that passage, I instantly remembered back to my student teaching seminar, when the professor asked us “how can you relate to students who don’t care about getting good grades?” Coming from a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, most of us in the room were highly concerned with our grades. Getting grades was easy – empathizing with our students was hard.

After many years, I think that Martin offers at least a possible solution – put yourself in your students’ shoes. Translation: try something new where you might have to struggle a bit to succeed. Martin believes that “the best teachers are the ones who have struggled and succeeded.” I am reminded of a wise colleague of mine (now retired) who always told me that any good idea always starts with a LOT of fumbling and error.

So I challenge you all to make this your New Year’s resolution. Try something new – something in which you may have to struggle a bit in order to succeed. Not only will it enrich your life, but you’ll be able to better empathize with your students and it will make you a better teacher.

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