I was a reasonably good elementary school student (although certainly not the best in my class), and then a not-very-good middle school student, and then a poor student for much of high school. (I failed my junior English class, and had to write essays about The Bluest Eye and Twelfth Night over the summer to get a D.)
Some of this had to do with intellectual challenges: I was a bit behind the curve when it came to abstractions. Like, I could not handle the idea of the equation x + 2 = 4, because x is not a number, so how is that even possible? My struggle with abstractions was also seen in my study of literature and anything that couldn’t be, like, memorized. (I’ve always been a pretty good speller, for instance.)
Some of my troubles in school also had to do with what in retrospect were social and mental health challenges. But I was very lucky to have teachers who saw a lot of potential in me and refused to give up on me, even when I was defiant and annoying and set off fireworks outside their bedroom windows. (Do not do this. It is not cool. It is just annoying.)
That said, I think it’s an oversimplification to say that I was a “troubled child” or whatever. By college, I was engaged and interested in many of my subjects and became, as my favorite college professor once called me, “a solid B+ kind of fellow.”
I don’t think it’s fair to see some kids as merely smart and others as merely troubled, or to think that kids who are performing poorly in school are simply miscreants/stupid/whatever. (It’s also unfair to portray kids who perform well in school or who have expansive vocabularies or whatever as inherently untroubled.)
Of course, none of this should be an excuse to give up. It can be really hard to try to stay engaged in school/learning/anything, especially when you don’t have the kind of support I was lucky to enjoy. But it’s also worth it. Learning is hard, and learning how to learn is hard, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It really is something that we have to do for a lifetime—or, more optimistically, that we get to do for a lifetime.