As I happily rejoined a group of players I knew in drill tonight, I once again drew parallels to being a learner and a teacher. (I recently had to adjust to a new pro in my other group, and even though that's another story, the experience applies here) Tonight, I was expecting my favorite pro to lead the class, as usual, and I could quickly slip into the easy banter and the blistering forehands I had come to know so well. Actually, learning from H is like greeting a well-worn pair of slippers I can't stand to be without on the cold ceramic of my kitchen floor. A kind of protection. Well, unexpectedly, someone else, a stranger, appeared as our leader. He could comment on our quirks, stop us over and over, introduce his way of seeing the game, and generally confuse us a good bit of the precious 90 minutes on the court. Ugh!
It took a few minutes, but I switched gears, striving to listen a little more closely, and let's face it, apply what he said to try to prove that I actually did have some skills. According to him, I was doing everything wrong! (Well, maybe not everything) But I was here to relax, see my tennis pals, and smack the ball around, wasn't I? Well, that's it. That's the thing. I had to get over myself. This was an opportunity. And I wasn't ready to accept it.
I'm a little embarassed to admit it, but it took awhile to get "on board" and see what this guy had to offer. There's something in the good teacher-learner relationship where the one who wants to learn has to trust, has to be vulnerable (yeah, but I don't WANT to focus on my weaknesses. This is supposed to be relaxing), and has to respect and value the knowledge the teacher brings to the table. And remember, we're adults. We should be able to understand this stuff instantly, right? Be open. Assume he's an expert. Just unpack our lousy serve and put it out there. See what "this one" can add to THAT longstanding conversation. Right? Easier said than done.
Well, I think of my students, my college freshmen. They must feel even more of the "bad stuff" of getting used to, trusting and finally, maybe, just maybe, buying into a stranger's worldview. And plenty of them don't have the maturity yet to "get over" themselves. At 18 or 19, it's all about oneself. Isn't it supposed to be? Teaching and learning can be so personal (ew), and the teacher's gotta "put it out there," too, to forge a connection. And many of these freshmen don't even want to be in my class, or ANY English class. They'd rather be anywhere else. Some of them have had negative experiences with school and/or English teachers and they really don't like to write--or even THINK about how to write, if they can help it. Why SHOULD they apply themselves? What could I possibly do for them? How might they fill the time and move onto a more satisfying activity that requires less of them?
I've come to appreciate the skills of a good pro--not just the tennis ones, either. The teacher ones. I can be a lousy student. Sorry, new guy--and thank you.
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