I’m not even sure who said it, but I know I first heard talk of it this summer when I was working with other teachers in my district.
First a little background: In light of the new Common Core State Standards, which are changing the expectations for teachers and students, our school district is reweaving our curriculum to match up with CCSS. The best part of this whole deal is that teachers are at the heart of the work. We spent four really intense days this summer learning and writing together, and then all this year a smaller group of us will continue that really great thinking to complete the documents for English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math.
Ok, so during our work this summer, a phrase was floating around that said: “Don’t steal the struggle.” From the second I heard it, I knew it was something I’d be on board with. It’s actually something I’ve always felt really strongly about as an educator, but now I had better words for how to describe it–both for myself and to my families.
Then I had a situation within my own life happen last week that really highlighted the importance of this phrase for me. And I’ll warn you ahead of time, that it’s an example I share as the “what not to do in this situation.” I’m taking a class right now, and had an assignment due on Wednesday for the discussion forum for class. I, unfortunately, had waited until late to do it, and so was in a little bit of a time crunch. Last week was nuts at school with lots of meetings and conferences on Thursday night, so I had a lot on my mind (i.e. I was a little stressed out already!).
I sat for close to an hour drafting my answer to the discussion question (which was related to whether or not there is a paradigm shift in education from information acquisition to knowledge creation in American education), and was ready to post it. And then–yes, you guessed it–when I hit POST, I got a weird ACCESS DENIED error message and everything I had worked on was gone. Gone. And no, I had not saved along the way.
So obviously there are probably other lessons to learn here besides the one I’m going to tell you, but this next part was the one I shared with my class related to struggles. Unfortunately, my first reaction after that little bump in the road was to cry. It’s kind of how I roll. When I am dealing with something stressful, first I cry, then I write (usually in my own Writer’s Notebook, so I can figure out my feelings) and then I can figure out a way to deal with said frustration. So here I cried. Then I wrote–which was some rambling email to my teacher about what had happened and how I hoped she’d show a little grace when she graded my discussion post this week–and then I was able to think about what I should do next. Pretty much I had two choices: 1) I could just quit, and not turn in a discussion answer this week (which would have several negative consequences) or 2) I could start over. Well, needless to say, I chose option #2, and reluctantly started over with my answer. Luckily, I remembered more of it than I first thought I would, and honestly I think the second version was actually a little better.
Ok, so what’s the connection to my classroom? Well, go back to the “don’t steal the struggle” phrase from earlier. The big idea there is that as an educator, I want to focus on not “rescuing” my students when things are hard. Whether it’s in learning or something social or any other kind of problem they might have, it’s not in my students’ best interest if I swoop in and save the day every time they struggle. I only teach them that things should always be easy, and that only an adult can solve problems for them. That struggle is bad and that I’ll make it all better and fix it for them.
But of course that’s not true. Some struggle is a good thing. It’s during those feelings of disequilibrium, “pain” so to speak, when students are forced to figure things out for themselves. To solve problems and use what they know to figure out what to do next. And my students would tell you that they know that’s a really important thing to know how to do. We had a discussion about this the other day and they had smart words about the topic. They agreed that they wanted a chance to figure things out on their own first, knowing that I would support them as needed, but that I wanted them to try something first. They knew that this was important because I’m not always going to be there. Some day they’ll grow up will have to be able to know how to do that alone. And several even mentioned the pride that comes with figuring out an answer for themselves.
My story was a picture of both what I hoped they didn’t do (just cry), but also what I hoped they would learn to do in a hard situation–figure out what to do to solve the problem. Not quit. Persevere.
So my new motto is Don’t Steal the Struggle. It’s going to hang in my room for all to see, and to hold me accountable. My kids understand it, and I think it’s vastly important as I help grow these learners into confident, capable citizens of tomorrow. And like I tell them everyday, hard is good. Hard is when we learn.