One of the benefits of being a pandemic school guide is to finally be that proverbial fly on the classroom wall. What goes on in there, and how do teachers cope with a room full of six-year-olds? Yikes! Well, the mute button is a handy tool during these times! And keeping the small people in their chairs is not the teacher’s problem. Remote learning for both teachers and students is a steep learning curve and far from ideal, but there are the little things.

But really, I have been so impressed with Elliot’s teacher’s ability to keep his attention; and judging from the vivacious comments and questions of the likes of others, like Tessa and Pippa (my two favorite names of his classmates and I love their eager little voices), they are engaged in learning about number bonds and sight words and the Cornelius character Ms. H. reads about (I think during social learning time, but I’ve not paid close attention to know exactly his role).

Mind you, I rarely see the screen, I only hear the unmuted voices and see what Elliot shares with the class, including his hand-waving to be called on to tap his unmute button and share a thought, that is occasionally less than appropriate, and hear Ms. H. deftly acknowledge it and return to topic.

There are also times that I think she hasn’t understood what he says, or for whatever reason doesn’t respond in the way he hopes she will, and I see his face deflate for a moment. But before I can even consider telling him from across the room that I got it—which would be my own inappropriateness (I’m not part of the classroom)—he has moved on, smiling to himself at his own wit. And really isn’t self-appreciation the more important learning?

I am present in a teacher assistant role, to remind him when he gets distracted by something Adrian is doing and leaves his chair, that his work is with his teacher right now. (Truthfully, I’m amazed it doesn’t happen more often. His parents and teachers have long known that as a gifted child, and now with an ADHD diagnosis to help explain his behavior and provide tools to thrive, he has always been hyper-aware of what is happening all around him at all times.) My primary role is to keep him on task during independent learning time and provide one-on-one help if needed. It is not my place to interrupt his time with his teacher.

I’ve understood that is not appropriate, but I didn’t know the theory behind it, until this week. The principal sent out an email to parents on the topic—which also comes to me, as a student guide. “Fostering Independence” the subject line said. One issue she has seen occurring, she writes, is that parents of some students are relying too much on their adults to help them during lessons.

Now, I am willing to bet that it’s not the student’s reliance, but the adult’s stepping in, not wanting their child to get it wrong in front of the class. But probably the principal knows that and is not wanting to alienate right off the bat with an accusation. And yep, she waits until the second sentence: “We know you want to help your kids be successful.” And then comes the learning, my learning:

“However, we have learned that students do best when they are allowed to engage in what education experts call ‘productive struggle.’ …trying things and making mistakes. When students are given the answers too soon, they don’t have time to engage in this struggle. …we have found that students simply don’t learn as much when they have not had to struggle a bit.”

And isn’t that what’s happening in our beloved country right now? Is that not what has happened throughout our nation’s history before times of great change? We have struggled, and in the struggle we have learned, and in the learning we have grown.

Today is Halloween, a night when we embrace fear. It feels a little pathetic in 2020: it’s been a scary year. (It’s been a terrifying four years.) We’ve been struggling, and learning, and—I pray—growing.

Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is really just the lead up to All Saints Day, or Day of the Dead. A day when we honor those who have gone before us, who have taught us, who are no longer part of our struggle. They are seated in their places outside the frame of the picture, silently entreating us to remember them and honor what they learned in their own struggles; not to throw it aside, but to build on it. They are cheering us on.

My Day of Dead altar, including our beloved dead; and sage for wisdom, rosemary for love & remembering, thyme for courage. And the Elder of Fire for transformation.

Tuesday is Election Day. Voter registration is up. People are early voting in record numbers. What that will mean is yet to be seen; but voting is good. It’s the antidote to apathy. I hope it’s also a response to antipathy; that it’s a signal the majority of Americans are ready for a kinder, better America.

Elliot’s principal goes on to say to adults in the virtual classroom that if you feel you must “assist,” be sure the mute button is engaged. That is good in the classroom struggle, but we out in the world need to unmute our voices. One way to do that is to VOTE. (I suspect everyone reading this has already done so.) And now we trust: we trust the process, we remain hopeful, we try to be optimistic—because it’s healthier.

And when the results are in, we push up our sleeves. Either way it goes, there is work to be done: bridges to build, towers of demagoguery to be torn down, wounds to heal, wrongs to right, rights to uphold.

The Seattle Public Schools superintendent also sent out a message this week: remote learning will continue at least through the first semester—the end of January. I’m in business here at Three of Earth School for at least three more months.

Hang onto your hats, this wild ride ain’t over yet.

The week in pictures.

6 thoughts on “Productive Struggle

  1. Wow just wow…long gone are the times when ‘the dog ate my homework’! The role of teachers has expanded to include home settings, of course…it couldn’t be otherwise! Much appreciation and luck to all of you! I, myself, lived for escape to school and opportunities to use my voice in church music. Am delighted that you chronicle and share these productive struggles as well as all other PSs!

    Yes, the harvest moon…the last time there was a full moon on halloween was 1944!

    Keep on hanging on, there could be some electoral drama ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved school too. As I parent, I loved the yellow school bus. Adjustments.

      Wow, that’s cool info about the Halloween moon! And what the heck, the news from Texas this morning? GOP is desperate.

      As always, thank you for reading! 💜


  2. I love the idea of “productive struggle”. I don’t think any of us really benefit from being “spared” our feelings and follies. What great learning for all of you. 

    My altar is ready as well. Too full these past few years, but I will quietly remember them all. Thanks for the reminder. The “blue” moon tonight is stunning. Hope has a color. 

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your alter is so full. I know you miss them.

      I missed the moon. It’s tracking from behind the trees and over the house the past few nights, and I was too tired after big festivities to go outside. This morning, of course, I’m sorry I didn’t.


  3. I absolutely love how engaged Elliot is. Who knows–maybe this is actually a better learning environment for him! (Which is not to say it’s better for everyone, because there’s no situation that’s perfect for everyone.)

    Liked by 1 person

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