Day 18: Discomfort

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.


Learning requires fundamental internal changes. Reorganization and reordering of what was so we can add in new. It is a disruption in our internal state of being.  And that is uncomfortable.

Yesterday I asked students to figure something out. Alone.

Before this, I modeled. Students worked together on a similar problem. It was a culmination of years of modeling and practicing with others.  Now it was time to go it alone. Scary and uncomfortable for most.

Many students want someone there, to support, to prompt, and often to do for them. “I don’t get it” was the call for help. To which the teacher instinct in me says, “let me help.”

Yesterday, I steeled myself against my instincts and asked, “What can you do?”

That led to some blank stares. Which might translate into the fact that I have given in to their requests too readily. Or perhaps they are exquisitely skilled in seeking help.

I say. “This is your time to try. You are a reader and a writer. You have had many lessons on this. Figure it out.”

“Can I work with someone else?”

I say, “Not this time.”

More discomfort. Fidget. Fidget. Get a drink of water.

Finally, a solo attempt.

I’m cheering inside. But, I say, “What else can you do?”

More discomfort, but less fidgeting and another attempt.

“This is hard.”

I say, “And you are doing it!”

I take this lesson into the staff lounge where the conversations float toward teachers teaching new subjects, new grade levels. And out of my mouth, I hear, “I don’t want to learn that all alone. That scares me.”  I toss and turn with the prospect of not knowing. Perhaps I’ve become complacent or exquisitely skilled in my little world that makes anything outside it frightening. I am my students. How dare I not go there?

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.





19 thoughts on “Day 18: Discomfort

  1. Your insight is telling today. We often want to send our kids out to go it alone. They need this practice of letting go and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with success, but are we not afraid of the same thing?

  2. This sounds like my students, too! Thank you for the moral support. They so easily become dependent on others for everything. I’m always saying, “Are there no resources in this room? Can you look it up?” Problem solving on their own is even harder and scarier, but so good for them.

  3. “I am my students. How dare I not go there?”
    This really knocked me back, Julieanne. It’s part of the reason I decided take this challenge.
    Your students are so lucky to have a teacher who helps them embrace and celebrate the struggle!!

  4. Building independence and student agency is not easy and takes time. It’s not only the teacher’s role. Parents have a big role to play too. I can relate to what you wrote. It takes patience not to run to the rescue when they ask for help.

  5. Power in the words, “What can you try?” Sometimes we just need to give it a go. That thought might be for changing a grade level too. 🙂

  6. As we get older, and have more experience, it’s so easy to ignore the “new”, and think we have all we need. There is a difference between learning a skill from someone, and then using it all alone. You’ve asked your students, and then yourself, to try all alone. My first thought is I wonder how they would do if in the situation Gary Paulsen gave to the boy in Hatchet? He figured things out because he had to. I think you’ve opened some of your students’ eyes here. Nice to read.

  7. I’ve really been enjoying your month-long peek into your daily classroom practices. Clearly, you have a great deal of self-awareness to be able to compare your classroom situation with your own response when faced with something new and challenging. I hope you shared the insight with your students!

  8. I went to a tech conference recently. One session I attended involved LEDs and connectors and making circuits and I just wanted to freeze up and do nothing. I had to force myself to do even a little bit, but as I did so, I became completely engrossed in figuring it out. It was a MUCH better reminder for what school is like for my students than attending another reading/writing session, where I’d be learning but comfortable!

  9. I always feel like I’m getting it right in the classroom when students feel that discomfort. I think our students fear mistakes so much. From the very beginning in most of my courses, “mucking around” and “ish” are our metaphors. I rarely give very explicit instructions for doing anything: it’s always, “Well, go muck around and see what happens.” I really love your “What can you try?” with younger children. My college students eventually come to like “go muck around” but I’m not sure that would be quite enough scaffolding with younger students!

  10. Letting go is a really scary proposition for students and a big step for the teacher, Julieanne. You seem to be handling this with grace and a good deal of reflection.

  11. How true- we are our students in many ways. We seek independence and autonomy, yet, at the same time it frightens us. We fidget and get s drink of water too. But, just have we have learned to work through that discomfort, you are allowing your students to learn to work through it as well.

  12. Julieanne,
    You are too hard on yourself.
    You asked them to enter the pool on their own. You did not throw them overboard with blood dripping into shark-infested waters. You gave them the floaties, lessons, and skills for success. Now it’s their turn!

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