The Thinker Behind “Grit” Says Teachers Need Grit, Too

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Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, became famous (famous for an academic, at least) for her theory of “grit”—the notion that long-term passion and perseverance in pursuit of one’s goals was a key ingredient for student success. Now Duckworth is back, arguing that teachers need grit, too. It makes sense: If you’ve ever taught, you know how challenging it can be, and how much a little grit would help.

With coauthor Claire Robertson-Craft, Duckworth has written a new paper, “True Grit: Trait-Level Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals Predicts Effectiveness and Retention among Novice Teachers.”

“Surprisingly little progress has been made in linking teacher effectiveness and retention to factors observable at the time of hire,” Robertson-Craft and Duckworth begin. “The rigors of teaching, particularly in low-income school districts, suggest the importance of personal qualities that have so far been difficult t0 measure objectively.”

The authors began by giving each teacher in the study a “grit score” based on “objective evidence of perseverance and passion in college activities and work experience.”

Checking back on the teachers at the end of the school year, Robertson and Duckworth found that grittier teachers outperformed their less gritty colleagues and were less likely to leave their classrooms mid-year. No other factors—including college GPA, interviewer ratings of leadership experience, or demographic variables—predicted either retention or effectiveness.

What is it that sets people with grit apart? Robertson-Craft and Duckworth describe their key characteristic this way: “Gritty individuals work  diligently towards very challenging, long-term goals, sustaining commitment when confronted with setbacks and adversity.”

That sounds like a quality that would be immensely useful in teaching—and many other professions.

Brilliant readers, what do you think? Does being a good teacher require grit?

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7 Responses to “The Thinker Behind “Grit” Says Teachers Need Grit, Too”

  1. Olga says:

    I agree. Getting through grad school was pretty much all about determination. Same goes for the first year of full-time college teaching.

    • Willie Henderson says:

      Olga, how can we sustain this determination in our student teachers? Any ideas? Nowadays, many a new grad is just in for the money…

  2. Willie Henderson says:

    I agree, grit is something you need to have as a teacher. For student teachers, or teachers fresh out of college, the classroom might as well be the Wild West. So how does one work on amassing more grit?

  3. Josephine M. Calamlam says:

    I have always been interested in this topic. I’ve been trying to develop this trait in my student teachers.

  4. I can’t agree more. However, I also can’t help but think about the reasons one needs grit to teach. Sure, it takes grit to get through the challenge of reaching a student who struggles. Sure, it takes grit to provide a variety of ways “in” when other pathways lead to dead ends. It takes grit to help those few students who claim they don’t want to have help or to become an advocate when parents fail to show up at the table. Trying to keep up and continue to innovate even while budgets take your tools takes grit as well. But, in a way, we signed up for those challenges, and while they stink, it’s a part of our job to continue pushing through these hurdles.

    What confuses me, however, is that many times teachers need grit dealing with those who are supposed to support us. My colleague said just last week, “Why do we have to work so hard for the right to work hard?” Why do we continue to have to pitch best practice instead of being encouraged to do it? I’m watching great teachers bleed out from our schools simply because they are shocked to learn just how many stakeholders they have to fight in order to do their job well.

    At some point, does the trait of grit become the trait of foolhardy?

    -Heather Wolpert-Gawron
    aka Tweenteacher

  5. Peter Meyer says:

    The problem with the “grit” people is that they too often suggest that grit trumps knolwedge. As E.D. Hirsch and Daniel Willingham have pointed out in separate reviews of Paul Tough’s book, grit without knowledge doesn’t get you very far; but grit in the service of knowledge building does. I would imagine that would apply to teachers as well…

  6. Patty Leever says:

    I agree with Mr. Meyer: “grit without knowledge doesn’t get you very far.” Furthermore, true grit comes from the knowledge of knowing what the teaching profession entails–long hours of grading, planning, helping students after hours, and contacting parents/guardians on progress–before you enter the profession, and doing so because you love your job and the students–not because of the paycheck or the summers off. If you are entering the teaching profession for the latter then you’ll never maintain the grit needed to last very long.

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