Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 24, 2013

Being a student, instead of a teacher, is challenging


— It is humbling to be a college student at age 41. I am, certainly, excited to learn new ideas and skills, and I have no problem with submitting myself to professors or processes or institutions. No authority issues or anything. But when you’ve “been” the teacher for so many years in so many settings, it can feel a little, well, multiple-personalities-disorder-ish to remember which I am in any given moment — student or teacher?

I should note it also can be a great relief when the Just-A-Student personality is dominant. I love heading into my classrooms and soaking in information without having to know the information and communicate it effectively myself. I sit — in the front row, remember — with a cup of coffee, sigh, smile and think, “Teach me.”

And I love it when things click. So often these days, thanks in part, I’m sure, to 20-plus years of adult experiences from which to pull, the proverbial dots are being connected. That brings me great pleasure.

But back to that pseudo-schizophrenic feeling of “Who am I today?” (Can you tell I’m studying psychiatry? Please note my references to disorders are not clinically accurate; they’re a dubious example of pop-culture use of serious terms to convey ideas.)

Even when Just-A-Student in present, Mom-and-Teacher is usually watching, analyzing the teaching and tucking away her findings for reference.

From that perspective, I’ve pondered recently: What makes a good teacher a good teacher?

I know. My brain is busy. I’ve diagnosed myself chronically hypomanic. It’s OK. Not pathological.

One measure of a good teacher: He or she “inspires” people. I’ve decided I want to do that. I want people who connect with me to feel inspired to conquer things. I want, in some way, to have infused them with confidence, something we call “encouragement,” to give them the tools to do great things.

Problem is, I don’t know how, exactly, to be that kind of teacher. I know how to convey information, even entertain people. But I want to impart more than good feelings. I want to impart a motivation for success, whether that’s in my own children, childbearing clients, my nursing patients or anyone else I might instruct.

OVER THE PAST few months, I have been in a few situations as Just-A-Student where I felt wholly inadequate.

One was in the gym, where I actually was, in fact, wholly inadequate. I started a couple of months ago a workout regimen tried and true to many but new to me, CrossFit. It’s a certain way you work out, in a simple and unpretentious gym, to make you strong.

As with anything, there is a big learning curve with CrossFit. Just remembering what all the acronyms mean — WOD, AMRAP, PR, whatever — can give you a brain cramp.

A couple of mornings I was sure I was “the worst” CrossFitter ever. The instructors would sort-of watch and gently try to redirect me: “Hips out. Look forward. Butt down. Chest up.” Aye aye aye. I’ve often thought, “I’ll never get it,” and my successes are yet slow.

But then there was this one day. A move I tried over and over. I was getting angry, too — even at the teacher. She kept telling me what to do, but something just wasn’t clicking. I wanted to find fault with her, blame my failings on the instructor. And then she said, “I know you can do it. You just have to get where the power comes from.”

I glared straight ahead. “I know you can do it ….” I picked up that 35-pound metal bar and “got it.” Something clicked. I thrust this way and that and just “felt” the right move. It was surprisingly easy.

I smiled, happy to be done and go home.

But check out the teacher’s reaction: “Yes! You got it! Did you feel that?!” Her delight was genuine. She even strode over and offered a side hug – CrossFit tough, of course.

“I knew you could do it,” she said. (Glad she did because I had not been so sure.)

THAT IS INSPIRING. That’s what I want to do.

And what is it she did then, that instructor? I’ve boiled it down to this:

1. The goals were clear and concise. This is the move, and this is how it’s done. So there was an objective measurement of success. Very important, I think.

2. She broke it down in parts. I mean there are shoulders, hips, hands, feet, a zillion things that affect any move. She went through them one at a time and showed me what to do. You eat the proverbial elephant one bite at a time, right?

3. She kept at it with me. Each time I’d do the move wrong, she’d help me reset and do it again. Her patience was, well, admirable.

4. She never showed disdain. Speaks for itself.

5. She didn’t coddle me, but she assured me many people take a long time to learn the nuances of the move she was showing me. Reminding me I’m not alone.

6. She didn’t coddle me. Already said, I know, but so important. I’m glad she didn’t feel sorry for me or seem to care — if she noticed — that I was frustrated. She stayed goal-oriented and didn’t get moved by emotion. I like that in a person.

7. She told me, “I know you can do it.” I’ve said this 1,000 times to women in labor. They don’t believe they can, but I know they can. Then they do, and sometimes I even say, “Told you so,” kind of like she did.

8. Lastly, she took authentic delight in my success and celebrated the small victory with me. Every human likes to feel like he or she is pleasing to someone.

And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? We all want to hear “Well done.” So let’s get to it.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, doula, midwife’s assistant and student nurse pursuing a minor in complementary health from Elkhart. Contact her a¬¬t wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”