DJB

Finding Adventure...

What do we learn by teaching?

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A string of recent events in my life have led me to ask what do we learn by teaching? There are a lot of general answers to this, and I'm sure there's a lot of study about it. First I'd like to share some anecdotal evidence of things I've learned by teaching.

The first thing I noticed when I started doing high performance driving instruction was how much I learned about how to be a better driver from teaching. One of the main things is the most obvious, and that is it simply reinforces those things you already know. You hear yourself telling your pupil what you want from them, and it helps solidify those things in your own mind. Their questions and struggles might be things you've questioned or struggled with yourself. Even if not, sometimes it's enlightening to see what others do struggle with and relate that to how you might have been struggling and not even realized it. But either way, this all relates to getting better yourself at the things you know how to teach.

Another thing we learn by teaching is what we don't know. Sometimes we can teach things we can't actually DO ourselves, but most of the time that's much more difficult. If you can't do it yourself then you find a need to learn it quickly, or at the very least recognize it's a skill you lack and lack the ability to teach and might want to learn before you take on another student. But teaching can be a good way to learn your own shortcomings. Well, it's good for the teacher, maybe not so much for the student!

Something else we learn by teaching are valuable attributes like patience. Coaching kids on sports teams is really a lot of teaching, and it's an environment where you are required to have a lot of patience. It's really not acceptable to do it if you can't have the patience to keep from getting angry or upset when the students don't get it as fast as you'd like...or worse, simply won't bother to learn it because practice is too close to bed time, they haven't had supper yet, or school was simply a complete drain on their cognitive ability for the day.

Okay, so those are some things you learn from teaching. Today I got some nice praise by being a good student, and that got me to thinking about why I might actually be a good student. Now, don't get me wrong, I did pretty well in school. I attribute that to a reasonable IQ along with a fear of getting in trouble for not doing what was expected of me (for the most part). But what about now? Is it just those things? Is there something more? Yes, I think there is something more. Something much more. There has to be something more, because I think I'm a much better student now than I ever was. I think that difference comes from my experience as, you guessed it, a teacher.

Having had a variety of experience now as a teacher (and no, I'm not claiming to be very good at being a teacher...far from it, but that's not the point here), I know the feeling you get when a student has an epiphany. I want my teachers to have that. But not necessarily because I just love my teachers or anything sappy (I mean I do, I do love you teachers!), but also because that epiphany feels good. It's a mutual thing. I know they are in it at least partly because they enjoy that feeling of seeing a student succeed, and I'm in it because I want to succeed, too. So while I'm only doing things I want to do and be good at, I also enjoy seeing my teacher have that sense of success that comes with me succeeding. It's really what we're both in it for, after all.

Okay, so this is no great revelation. But what I couldn't help but wonder is how do we get our kids to become teachers themselves at an EARLY age? How do we maybe give them some of that experience of being successful teachers so they'll better understand what their own teachers go through? I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear yours. What I know is that my kids often learn things that I don't know and next time that happens instead of saying "show me" I'm going to try to demand that they "teach me." We talked at the dinner table tonight about the difference in showing someone something and teaching someone something, and we're doing to try to adhere to that. And when they struggle with the teaching part, we'll try to help them. Nobody just inherently knows how to teach. It's a skill. But it's a skill that can be built at an early age, that much I'm sure. Maybe not all the intricacies of being a great college professor, but enough basics that they can more effectively help their peers, siblings, and at times, the parents.

It's never too late to learn, and often teaching is learning.
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Why I envy coaches that get paid.

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It's not about the money. Far from it. But at any level where you get paid to coach, you generally have closed practices. Which means no parents. At the volunteer level you're talking younger kids and the parents are going to hang around. Now, it's not that I'd do anything or even necessarily say anything different with the parents there than not. It's about the KIDS having their parents there. They can't help but yell at their kids when they think they're doing something wrong. The kids can't help but look to what their parents think after they do something.

I need their attention. I need it in a fairly undivided way because at least so far all the kids I've coached have been too young to multitask. I also feel like I'm a bit on two stages...one is for the kids, and the other the parents. Two sets of judges. Two sets of eyes on you. It's interesting.

Parents just want their kids to do well, and I respect that. I wouldn't be able to stay quiet on the sidelines very well, either. So it's human nature and we have to live with it. Especially since I'll never get paid to do this. I'm simply not worthy of that!
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Coaching kids

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So, we're almost through with my first attempt at coaching kids. In particular I'm coaching my oldest son's basketball team. Now, I have a policy that I don't blog about my kids in particular, but I did want to post on my experiences with coaching little kids.

The team is five and six year olds, and at this age they don't actually keep score at the games. The first thing anyone who has been through this before will tell you is "well, the officials don't keep score, but the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles sure do." That couldn't be more true, but it's also not nearly as bad as it sounds. We haven't had any parents upset at our record (which was pretty abysmal). Nobody has said a word about things we could have done to "win" any of the games. All in all, I have so far been very happy with how the parents have been with all this.

The one thing I was most worried about turned out to be the thing I should be the most worried about...my own lack of patience. I knew my team wasn't great, I knew my son wasn't the best player in the league, I knew I had no experience. But the biggest worry was would I blow my top. If you had told me before this all started just a few of my "experiences" that I would face this season, I would have found someone else to coach. I would have been certain that I couldn't have gotten through these things without losing a bit of self control. But I'm proud to say I think I made it just fine. In fact, I didn't just make it fine, I handled these things without even getting internally upset very much. Okay, the first couple practices had me a little worked up afterward, but it really wasn't that bad.

One thing I realized early on...these are VERY young kids. Given that, I have zero ability to motivate them like traditional coaching situations usually provide. I can't make them run suicides if they don't do what I say. I can't make them sit on the bench during the next game if they don't try. I can't get in their faces and scream things like "If I ever see you do that again I'm going to kick you in your ass until your nose bleeds!" Yeah, I had a coach do that to me in the middle of practice around the age of eleven. I'm not entirely sure it was a good thing to do to an eleven year old. Okay, it worked on me then, but I'd be afraid to try that these days, that's for sure. Heck, I'd be afraid to try that on a fifteen year old.

So if you can't do that, what can you do? All I can figure is just try to find things that are fun and also happen to build skills. That's not easy. And sometimes if you can't find a fun way to build a skill, you just have to work a not-so-fun drill in between two fun ones. That works okay, but even at this age all you can do is herd the cats. Keep pointing them in that proper direction as best you can, and repeat as necessary.

What's really hard? Having your own son in the middle of it all. He's a great kid, but he's a kid too. So when he does one of those things that makes you want to scream, it's that much harder to fight the urge because he's the one you can scream at. Well, legally and all that. But it still won't help, so you just roll along and try to have a conversation afterward about it.

At the end of it all, though, there's not a lot of feelings better than showing a kid the proper way to do something like this and then watching them try a time or two and have it work. It's especially great when they realize they've achieved something they have never done and may not have thought they could do at all. That look in their eyes is priceless. I think that is why the good coaches coach.
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