Does being a bad student make you a better teacher?

Nikki Cunningham-Smith was a less-than-ideal student – but could this make her better at her job, she ponders

Nikki Cunningham-Smith

Pupil aims paper aeroplane at teacher

Throughout my career, I have always found that pupils who are fairly similar to me tend to gravitate towards me. 

The irony of having to hand out detentions to these students for incomplete homework isn’t lost on me, having myself been a serial “Hang on Miss, I’m sure I packed it this morning...” person (knowing full well it wasn’t there).  

Despite the frustration of being an unwilling participant of this song and dance, I still have more patience (maybe more than I should have) with these young people. And I suspect I am less likely to hand out a sanction, owing to my own time as a pupil.

In any walk of life, it can feel easier to empathise with someone who is in a scenario that you can identify with. 

If at school you were desperate to learn, only to find yourself getting distracted by the class clown, there may be a little bit more of a willingness to stamp down on your own resident class clown's behaviour and elevate those who are struggling to get a word in. You can identify the frustration of the pupils, because you once faced the same fate.  

So what does this mean? Are those who were the worst pupils at school more likely to be the best practitioners when it comes to getting the best out of more challenging pupils? Or are they more likely to have low expectations, offering too much benefit of the doubt?

It’s a double-edged sword. To have been a less-than-ideal student yourself can certainly open the door for more thought and effort to try and understand the pupil and why they are making the choices that they are. But could you be too understanding? Could you be taken advantage of by pupils who see you as a walkover?

I could be biased, but I personally believe that formerly difficult students bring a lot to the table when it comes to working with similar pupils, due to the willingness to think outside of the box to effect change and tap into the emotions and actions that they themselves had in a similar position.  

That’s not to say that all teachers wouldn’t do this. But when you want to try and make sure that someone takes a positive path, knowing what the path they are on can feel like can make a big difference.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Nikki Cunningham-Smith

Nikki Cunningham-Smith is an assistant headteacher in Gloucestershire

Latest stories

Ministers seem to think schools are wasting money - in fact, schools are experts in cutting costs, says James Bowen

Why international teachers should receive financial CPD

There's a lot to learn working in another country - not least the financial situation and how to use your money wisely, which is why perhaps a CPD session or two would be a worthwhile investment
David Keating 30 Jul 2021