Why do so many “bad” students turn out to be great teachers?

By AJ Juliani on July 23, 2013

I didn’t fail out of high school. But I sure wasn’t a “good student”. While many of my friends took Honors and AP level courses, I stayed on the “regular” track…content to hide in the back of the class, do my homework the period before, and spend the majority of my time socializing. I played sports, was in the school play the Wizard of Oz (you should have seen me as the “Cowardly Lion”), and was even Student Council President…but when it came to academics I could care less.

Interestingly, as I found myself at a crossroads in college, it was education that steered my path. I realized that I did enjoy learning, reading, and writing—but didn’t always believe the way we typically “teach” was effective. In part, my experience in school led me to hope and work for a better experience. That’s not to say that I didn’t go to a great high school (I did), or have great teachers (I did). But I was rarely allowed to learn what I wanted, and therefore spent a lot of time worrying and thinking about things other than my studies.

Fast forward eleven years and I’m in my seventh year of teaching. Now out of the classroom, I get to work with teachers every day. I still spend tons of time working with students in classes, as a coach, and as a club sponsor. I’m constantly trying to improve education in any way I can for our students.

Weirdly, a lot of great teachers have a similar story. I was listening to the awesome EduAllstars Podcast with my good friend Jimmy Casas. Jimmy told his story, and started out talking about how he struggled in school…not taking learning serious, and dropping out of college a few times before sticking it out (he also had some great parents who kept challenging him to go back to school). Chris Kesler was one of the interviewers and he shared that his path was not too far off from what Jimmy was sharing. My colleague and fellow football coach Steve Mogg, would also agree that he didn’t take high school academics to serious. But here they all are as teachers. Sharing, collaborating, and improving education each and every day. I’m inspired by all of their stories, but can’t help wonder why our paths look the same.

I know many people in our country and around the world advocate for us trying to recruit the “top” students at schools and universities to become teachers. I’d love to have them join our profession. But please don’t count out the “bad” and “struggling” students as potential teachers. I’ve found from personal experience that many times those students who struggled in school have a different perspective on what a “great” teacher looks like. We want to be champions for these students so one day they can help improve education and reach out to students who remind them of where they once were while going through school.

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