Why you should learn something new... especially if you are teaching

Every time I am in the process of learning a new skill, I am struck once again about how uncomfortable the process can be. This time is it horseback riding that has moments of being uncomfortable. (Both mentally and physically... I wrenched my lower back this afternoon when my horse shied away from a new all. More on that horse in a minute.) For the most part, riding has gone quite well. I am continuing to remember all that I had forgotten and to improve my skills. While it is hard physical work to ride, it hasn't been all that difficult.

Well, that is until last week. My trainer put me on a different horse and the entire lesson was a train wreck. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I became very much aware of how much more I had to learn. In this case, on this horse (the same horse I've already mentioned), I realized that my lower leg strength was not what I had thought it was. To keep this uncooperative horse in a canter required much more work than previous horses I had ridden. Finally by the end of the lesson, I got him to canter around the entire arena. Well, almost around, I think he broke down to a trot at one point. It was frustrating and I knew in my effort to keep him going at the right gait, my form was all over the place. I felt like a beginner all over again. At the end, when I was feeling not so encouraged, my trainer told it me was a good first lesson on this horse. P. also mentioned that the first time she rode him, she couldn't even get him to canter, much less keep him in one. It did make me feel better... a little bit.

I had a feeling that I would be on the same horse today, and I wasn't looking forward to it. There is nothing like expecting your lesson to be a train wreck. I am happy to report that it was actually fairly successful (aside from the shying). I was ready for him from the start and had a good sense of what tricks he likes to use. I also knew that my lower legs were an issue and really focused on them. All in all, it was a much better lesson and I was even able to go over some poles. As a result, my attitude about riding has shifted to a better place once again.

Now, I have no illusions that the vast majority of you care a bit about horses or my horseback riding lessons, but I have a bigger point. For those of us who teach, it is easy to forget how hard it can be to learn, especially if that learning doesn't always come easily. By learning something new, especially if that something doesn't come easily, we teachers can develop a bit more empathy for our students and possibly give us insight into the learning process.

As I teach my children and my piano students, it is good to remember my own feelings of frustration. Part of learning is understanding how to beat frustration and I spend a lot of time talking about how to manage it. My own bad lessons help me to remember how difficult it is start again if the last lesson wasn't so great. Giving my own students something good to remember about the lesson makes coming back to it that much easier. I find this is especially true when I am teaching my own children reading or math. It is so tempting to just keep pushing a little bit more. "Let's read one more page or do one more math problem," even though I know a child is getting tired. It is always a mistake and I have to consciously decide to end on a high note instead of squeezing one more whatever out. Finally my riding lessons teach me that there is a very fine line between constructive encouragement and too much criticism. This will probably be different for each person, but I know I don't like to have things too easy. If the teacher has nothing to suggest that I improve upon, it makes me feel as though I have gone as far as I can and there's no point to trying for more. On the other hand, having a trainer never give me a compliment or point out what I'm doing well, leaves me feeling hopeless.

Learning something new not only helps to make us more interesting people, it also keeps us humble. So what new things are learning these days?


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