Why do you think some students succeed while others fail?

As a teacher, I  and others in my profession have wondered this countless times.  Some of us have convinced ourselves that we have found that “golden egg” and know the answer to this question.  I am among those who have convinced myself that I know the answer to that million dollar question!  How did I come by this magical solution you might wonder without spending thousands of dollars or reading a million article on education?  After teaching fourteen years, I have finally trusted my instinct and opened my eyes and discover that the answer was right there in front of me!  No, it was not any professional development classes I attended or any advice or word of wisdom given by others.  My freshmen English class was my savior!  All I had to do all these years was to simply ask the main source, them, the students.  I was too proud and yes, too ignorant to know any better! Before I tell everyone what they told me, I would like to ask the same question I asked them: Why do you think some students succeed while others fail?  Does it have to do with the way they were raised? Does it have to do with their race? Does it have to do with their environment?  What do you think is the main factor to makes some students succcessful while others give up?


8 thoughts on “Why do you think some students succeed while others fail?

  1. As a writer, it’s my nature to be a little contrarian, so I hope you’ll forgive me for this.

    I find that the question of success often comes from a lack of requiring our children to vocalize and articulate what the meaning of success is and to recognize the potential within them for that success.

    How can one work towards a goal if one does not even understand what those goals are in concrete terms and then makes the effort to break that goal down into an achievable process?

    This is not to say that there are not external and even internal factors at play, but in general, many children have never been challenged to answer that most ancient of questions: What is a good life?

    Not necessarily a wealthy life, a famous life. What is a GOOD life?

    We too, should challenge ourselves in the measures we suggest, and the measures we impose on a child by which they might claim success.

    How often we’ve heard the yearning, the demands upon the child to become a doctor or some proud figure of society, without even understanding what it would mean to be such a person.

    This is not to say that it is not an achievement. But is it all there is? And is it what the child dreams of becoming?

    In hearing the inner yearning of their heart, if they’ve been taught to listen to their heart, do they wish to be these things other people want them to be? Perhaps they do.

    But if they do not, shouldn’t we instead do what we can to help them realize their intrinsic being, to find that which brings them the greatest happiness in their brief, brief lifetimes.

    What? 70, 90, 100 years upon the earth if we’re lucky? A drop of water in the great ocean of time. How can we ask them to spend their lives doing something they will look back on and say: I was unhappy doing it, but I did it for you.

    The good life will not come to all the people upon the planet, but surely, parents, teachers, citizens of the world can do what they can to try and help children towards that, even if they themselves have not necessarily enjoyed it themselves.


    Success can come only when the child understands and accepts an articulation of success for themselves. They must want it for themselves.

    But here is where I will challenge all of us. And that is: The confrontation of failure.

    I see us speaking of failure too often in absolutes. As if: You make a single mistake, a single error, you are damned and unforgivable, without worth.

    This is far too draconian, too inflexible, and unrealistic.

    We speak of failure in hushed tones. Speak only of our successes, never laugh over our own failings.

    But a secret of the universe is that ultimately, in life there are no failures, only setbacks. We must encourage a resilience within our children to accept setbacks and errors, and to be persistent and learn from mistakes.

    A person who can learn from their failures ultimately can never be defeated.

    There is a story of a young executive who lost her company $1,000,000 and she wanted to resign. But her boss refused to accept her resignation.

    “But why?” The young woman asked.

    “We just spent $1,000,000 teaching you! I don’t think you’ll make that mistake again, will you?”

    “No,” she replied.

    “Good. Then think on this, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

    A football game is not only about gaining yardage. The game doesn’t end if you get pushed back. It is about adapting, improvising, and overcoming challenges to reach our goals.

    But again, most children never have deeper conversations about this sort of thing. They aren’t allowed time to process or to become introspective on the matter.


    To talk of success is one thing. To talk of failure is one thing. To talk of both, honestly, we can start to see growth and change, and maybe even better, success that is lasting, success that is meaningful.

    Do you want to create a child who can see success only in terms of their own gratification? In the short term, such a being is successful.

    Or, do you wish to raise a child who understands that the success of humanity, of societies, is related to their own success, and they will work towards this- to improve not only their lives, but those around them, and perhaps, best of all, the lives of those who will come after all of them!

    Let us speak of success not only in small terms, but in the biggest pictures possible!

  2. karmadiva

    Bryan wonderful dialogue! Yes, I agree that it is vital that our young people are encouraged, motivated and yes taught to articulate what it is that they want out of life. We, often as a society as a whole, think for the younger generations or have ready answers for everything instead of allowing them to grow on their own and experience life. They have to make their own mistakes,but the real test is if they can reflect on that experience and understand why they think it’s an error. Once they are able to ascertain that failures are minor setbacks and that THEY are the ones in the driver seat to do something about their situation; then they will have that self-confidence to meet any challenges head on.

  3. I came from a large family and I can’t say that my parents raised us differently but some of us are more successful. As for me, I measure my success according to my happiness, I don’t have to have huge house, a doctorate degree nor fancy car, but to some, I can’t say that this holds true. I totally disagree with those parents that push their children to become a doctor or lawyer, and think that their children are only successful if they have a high paying job, driving expensive car and living in huge mansion, it’s all about ‘having face’, how dense is that?

  4. karmadiva

    Ginger, your comment reminds me of what Bryan said about living a good life or working toward having a good life. I think many parents especially in the Asian comunity are so worried about “saving face” and “having face” that the kids end up feeling bitter. I don’t believe in showing how happy or successful you are by flaunting materialistic things in front of others. If you are truly happy or successful, you would not really have to do those things because success and happiness is a state of being. Like Buddha or Sidhartha said, ” Desire is the cause of man’s suffering”.

  5. You are right, he took the scenic route in answering, and I just crossed the road to the other side (must be in a hurry); I guess that’s the difference between writer and blogger. 😉

  6. Chanthaphasouk

    Hello there karmadiva,

    I must agree with you that a large amount of Southeast Asian youth are not pursuing higher education. I’m currently an undergrad at UCLA and work quite often with the Thai Community in LA through Thai Smakom. (I myself am Lao). Although the figures say about 300 Thai people attend UCLA (both undergrad and grad) I’ve only come in contact with about 50-70 while the amount of Lao people I’ve come in contact with remains less than 10. I’ve been searching throughout the year and still no luck. One might argue that the majority of these Thai students come directly from Thailand, and thus is no comparison to the Lao people who come as refugees.

    Then, what about Vietnamese people? There are about 650 Vietnamese (undergrad only) at UCLA and it seems that they are rising in the ranks. How are they much different from the Laotian, Cambodia, and Hmong populations? All came as refugees when the war broke out in Vietnam some twenty years ago. Yet for some reason the Vietnamese are making it and the Lao, Khmer, and Hmong are suffering the most.

    What do you think about this issue? If we are all growing up with this high value on education, hard work, and achievement, why are we still suffering some 20 years after our parents made the journey? Are we then still part of that “Model Minority?” Sometimes I feel like our Laotian community isn’t moving at the rate we should be, and I definitely want to do something about it.

    L. Chanthaphasouk

    PS. Below is a link of a presentation made on Laotian American education at the Second International Conference on Lao Studies earlier this May.


  7. karmadiva

    Chanthaphasouk ,
    Thank you for the interesting stats you included in your comment! You got me thinking when you said that there are more Vietnamese and the Cambodians in college than Lao people. I think most Lao parents equate having a job (not even a career as long as it makes a great deal of money), a nice house, and car as success! As long as their kids have those things, the parents are happy! I know in the Lao community I grew up in the majority of the people emphasize those things instead of education because they see that as “making it”. However, in my household, my parents saw a college education as the ultimate symbol of “making it” because education can not be taken away from you and you can not lose it like the materialistics things!:)

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