Last summer on a balmy August evening my family and I were out taking our two dogs on our regular post-dinner stroll, when we came upon a sidewalk sight to behold. "M, H, look at this!" I gushed. I dropped to my haunches and my kiddos followed suit (much to my dogs' and husband's chagrin). There was a cicada mid-molt. My son being the kindhearted soul said earnestly, "Mom, we have to help him!"
"No," I gently replied, "if he doesn't struggle through the process his wings won't be strong. If we interfere to help we may actually hurt his growth." We continued to watch. My son was somewhat uncomfortable as a bystander through something that was obviously so difficult. My daughter took to another role. "Come on mister cicada! You've got this!" I stifled a grin as this was something I repeated to her for the last leg of her first 5k. Another feat that was fraught with difficulty, but yielded great gains within my girl upon completion.
A couple of days ago this phrase "the gift of struggle" came back to mind as I am prepping to reenter teaching junior high as well as settling into life in Vietnam. While I have always driven myself to provide enough challenge to my students to stretch, yet not discourage them in their learning journey, I now poetically find myself in the role of student.
I must learn how to do basic tasks, and speak, in ways that are no longer intuitive. No longer possessing my own mode of transportation, I must communicate well enough to get from point "A" to point "B" via cab. Ordering water, shopping for food, and basic wares have proven to be grand adventures. After benefitting from the kindness and guidance of another expatriate family who has been in country for a while, I told my daughter we were going to forge out solo. My declaration was met with more than mere hesitation. "We should just ask Mrs. W to come along," my daughter suggested. Once again I gently disagreed saying if we never struggled through it, how would we ever get anywhere. I could tell my daughter was torn between her need for security and her fear of allowing her often directionally dysfunctional mother out into Hanoi alone. She opted to go with me, but gave me a concerned shaking of the head as we set out to my, "What is the worst that could possibly happen?" I struggled though communicating the address of a place to which I had never been before, to a kind cab driver, and we set off. He landed us (unbeknownst TO us) about two blocks away from our intended destination. After walking in 109 degree heat, we opted to hit a three tier shopping plaza to walk about where I purchased a fitting journal
We also enjoyed a Taro flavored Fro-yo and a Cafe Sua Da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) for lunch. After our nourishment, and asking a few folks the true location of our original intended destination we set out on foot to find it. After a street map discovery and a final quick inquiry "Eureka!" It was such a feeling of accomplishment to reach our goal.
I have to be honest that there were a couple of times I thought about abandoning the goal and settling for the lesser experience. As sweat was running in rivulets down my back and legs it would have been more pleasant just to grab a cab, rattle off our address and head home. After all we had serendipitously found a pretty nice shopping plaza and an apropos journal. That could have sufficed. So why didn't I settle? My daughter who had unknowingly been my encourager. Earlier in our excursion, when we were still cool-ish and confident she said, "Mom, this is kinda like you running your marathons. It doesn't seem easy, but the finish line sure is sweet victory!" I know my students often struggle with this "It's good enough" mediocrity approach to learning too. They settle for getting a pretty good learning experience, when they could strive towards the goal of excellence. Students try particular strategies, (like I tried addresses, maps, and asking) that may or may not be effective. Students must then decide if they will continue on or remain where they are in learning. I think my daughter reminding me of the sensation of sweet success put me in the correct frame of mind to persist. How can I do that for my students? How do I avoid the error my son almost made with the cicada by "helping" the wrong way? I have decided this year I will be especially mindful of creating challenging, yet success yielding situations for my students, as well so that the gift of struggle will yield the gift of growth.