My professional and academic life converge over the use of the word struggle. I have spent a year looking into its usage and have come to a conclusion. The word is not a good descriptor for someone who is underperforming in school. Too often, we use this as a crutch as if to suggest that the mere act of struggling is enough to delineate between students who perform and those who don’t perform. It is also too heavily used when discussing students with exceptionalities or learning differences. Using the ever-present word “struggle” is problematic because its ubiquity is in place of an appropriate description of what is going on in your child’s classroom and a narrowly tailored approach to aiding your child into academic success.
To put it frankly, your student likely struggles for a reason, whether it be they are inappropriately redesignated ELL, have a LD or simply have poor instruction, the reasons are countless. Do not, as a parent, be satisfied when a teacher says your student is struggling. A polite response is, “With what?”. In order for your student to excel in school, you don’t need to identify them as struggling students, instead have high and realistic expectations of both your student, your teacher and their pedagogy.
In a culture of high expectations, where you have high (but reasonable) expectations of your teachers and they of your student, success is inevitable. One of my favorite quotes about education is that if you put good things in front of students, they will succeed. This includes how we label our students who aren’t doing well.
As a parent or guardian, I am sure you are keenly aware that your student isn’t doing well, there are just too many assessments both in your home and summative assessments in school for you to be oblivious. Keep the word struggle out of your dialogue, it is not a word of high expectation or hope. When speaking of your student’s academic performance, no matter how dire, speak in the language of solutions and optimism, not of struggle and pessimism.