When you hear the word “struggle,” what feelings crop up for you? Looking at the world around us, it’s clear that struggle is something we’ll often do anything to avoid. But as you and I both know, pushing through challenges develops many character traits and skills that we need to be humans who are full of good things like determination, commitment, and kindness.
Just like in life, struggle is a necessary part of learning in the classroom. In order for students to truly learn at the deepest levels, they must grapple with academic challenges and learn how to stay the course. “Struggle” will mean different things for different students, of course, but in order for all students to learn and grow, they must each face appropriately difficult tasks and lean into them instead of trying to find a shortcut or give up altogether.
When I allow my students to struggle and walk with them through it, I am telling them that I believe they have what it takes to succeed. I am giving life to my students’ self-confidence. I’m empowering them to believe in themselves and do difficult things. And I’m building trust in our relationship, too.
Don’t get me wrong. It is difficult sometimes to let this process play out, but removing important obstacles in my students’ experiences will ultimately be calamitous. Doing so robs them of opportunities to develop life skills they need to be successful adults. I choose to sit with my students in their struggle, helping them put words to their feelings and fears. I encourage them to problem-solve on their own in order to find their own light at the end of the tunnel instead of carving the path for them.
And I believe that this is what every teacher – and parent, for that matter – should do for the children in their care. It’s tough work. But it’s worth it.
For further reading on this topic from a parenting perspective, check out Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: the Heart of Parenting by John Gottman.