“If you’re going to discover something new or invent something new, it’s a struggle. So I encourage educators to celebrate that, to say, ‘Who had a fantastic struggle? Tell me about your struggle!’”
— Carol Dweck
I’ll never forget the first day of the first class I taught. Composition 101 at 10:00 a.m. on the second floor of the Liberal Arts Building. My colleagues had advised me against showing up early—it would only make me look nervous—so I strutted in the door at 7:59. Despite the pep talks and the week-long practicum training, I instantly started shaking. I stumbled on my words. I’m sure I was sweating. I didn’t have to show up early for the students to know I was nervous. I made it through the class somehow, and as the students were filing out, one stopped at my desk to chat. She told me how nervous she was—she was far away from home, didn’t do so well in her high school English classes, and struggled with anxiety when talking in front of a class. “Me too,” I told her. “But it gets better.”
I didn’t know at that moment that it would get better. I never could have guessed that teaching would become something that I love and look forward to on a daily basis. But the struggle I felt on that first day of the first class I taught hasn’t disappeared. Instead, I have cultivated that struggle. In so doing, I have developed a pedagogically innovative teaching style that encourages struggle on my part and on the part of my students: we struggle with ideas, we struggle with writing, we struggle with talking, we struggle with texts. And through this struggle, we develop into more critically minded, and critical thinking, citizens of the classroom and the world at large.
I have had the opportunity to teach a wide range of classes, including Critical Reading and Writing, Composition I and II, World Literature, Technical Writing, and Introduction to Fiction. No matter what class I’m teaching, though, I follow Carol Dweck’s recommendation to ask my students about their “fantastic struggles.” I too believe, like Dweck, that learning involves struggle; but this struggle isn’t something we should be ashamed about, nor is it something we should ignore. Instead, I ask my students to embrace that struggle, and I embrace mine right along with them.
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