Being A Learner
As I look ahead with interest for the opportunity to spend my time with your children, I am also reflecting on my summer vacation and the particular life lesson that was then presented to me. My husband reminds me that summer recreation is a chance to re-create ourselves. Many years ago he had enjoyed a bit of fly-fishing and so for this summer’s recreation, he invited me to take up the sport and spend a week in Montana at a fly-fishing lodge. Loving that big sky state, I cheerfully accepted his vacation plans. Peter was excited that I was willing to be a good sport about fly-fishing, but underneath was a little concerned that I might change my mind when I got there and not embrace the experience. But we flew to Montana, rented a car, and drove to our fly-fishing lodge.
The road there, gravel, one-laned, and private, put us out of sight of others, but offered a closeness to nature that seemed foreign, yet familiar. I began to become more interested in spending a week in this hidden natural reserve.
We spotted our outfitter’s house and our adjoining cabin-like room, drove in the driveway, parked, and were quickly greeted by the wife and husband team, chef extraordinaire and fly-fishing instructor/guide. Thinking I needed to make myself comfortable, Peter let me ask our guide all the getting-to-know-you questions. Upon hearing the answers to some of my questions, I soon became uncertain if I were really committed enough to fly-fishing to require such an experienced, skilled, and serious instructor. But in a few minutes I was out by their pond holding the rod and reel and trying to learn how to cast. It was from then on that I received the lesson, the gift I gave to myself.
I permitted myself to be a learner, I reacquainted myself with myself as a learner, and I observed myself as a learner. It was not easy. But it was eye opening.
Our guide was very kind to me as he showed me how to cast, told me how to do it step by step, and showed and told me how simple it was to learn. I was unable to internalize his articulate and clear verbal instructions, to replicate his perfect and exact demonstrations, or to please him with my achievements so that he could avoid thinking badly of me or being disappointed in himself as a teacher. I, the learner, carried a heavy weight. I felt like I was going to be perceived as incompetent and uncoordinated because I couldn’t learn the techniques quickly. Luckily, I didn’t feel any pressure from Peter or our guide to compete with Peter. He was doing great!
Every time our guide demonstrated how easy it was for him to lay the line out by either casting my rod for me or with me so that I could watch what he was doing or feel what he was doing, I felt worse about myself. I began to think I was the poorest student he had ever had. As the days progressed and the kinds of fishing experiences expanded, I continued to feel that way. I also felt like my poor progress was depressing him. He was trying fervently to teach me how to do it. I didn’t want him to think he was a bad teacher because I wasn’t making the kind of progress he hoped I would.
I began to want to fish by myself. I wanted to practice in privacy so that I could figure it out on my own and avoid embarassment. I didn’t feel safe to be who I was as a fly-fisherperson because I was ashamed of my performance. I knew I wasn’t stupid, but I was feeling a little dull!
Yet I knew I was making progress. I was even satisfied with my own progress, and I was actually enjoying the whole experience of being in the wild and practicing. But it seemed that every time my guide watched me, I did my worst. I began to think he didn’t really know how much I was improving because he missed seeing my good casts. I tried harder to show him during the moments I thought he was watching me that I could lay the line down straight, but then I’d overperform and snaggle the line. I was feeling very frustrated.
In my times alone with Peter I told him how much I was enjoying our vacation. He was so excited that I was sticking with it that he could hardly contain himself. He congratulated me on my efforts. Finally, I was able to take Peter’s advice and talk about my fishing goals to our guide. I let him know that I really only wanted to fish for half of each day, that I was enjoying the whole experience of being in the wilderness in Montana despite the fact that I needed help crossing the swiftly moving streams and traversing the rocky banks, that I understood what to do from him but that I knew I just needed more practice, that I was satisfied with my progress and meeting my own goals, and that I appreciated his patience, time, and instruction. I was a content client.
What I didn’t tell him was how much his well-intentioned teaching techniques interfered with me as a learner. I was wasting a lot of energy worrying about extraneous stuff. But because I was a teacher by profession I was being provided with a lot of insight into how learners like me might be feeling when given lessons by teachers like my guide.
My fly-fishing recreation/vacation was a great opportunity for me to re-create myself as a teacher who knows what it is to be a learner. I want to stay in touch with myself as a learner so that I can be reminded of what the children are feeling when they face new and challenging lessons. I want to be the kind of teacher who offers opportunities for learning and then gets out of their way instead of getting in their way. I want to prioritize their learning over my teaching. I want to be the kind of teacher they need. I know that being a teacher is the easy part. Being a learner – that’s a challenge!
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Director/Elementary 1 Teacher