Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dear Dash

Recently I read a post by this lovely and inspiring lady, in which she talks about the difficulties she has had learning and the difficulties her son faces too.

This post and my current teacher-y reflections on learning and self perception have turned into this:

Hey Dash,

I know you don't know me and I'm a teacher which means I might represent a lot of things you don't necessarily love but I wanted to write you a little note to cheer you on. (I'm not a perfect teacher, just so you know, but I try not to be The Trunchbull from Matilda either - just a regular get it right sometimes and stuff it up other times kind of teacher.)

So I wanted you to know that learning is difficult. Those kids you're looking at in class who easily cruise through and already know how to do everything... those kids aren't actually learning anything new. They might be practising some skills they already have and getting better at them - and that's okay at school, sometimes. But... if there is never any struggle and frustration then nothing new is actually being learnt.

Now it might seem really nice to cruise through school, and I will confess I was one of those kids - except in PE, you would have totally kicked my butt in PE. However, I promise you that you are going to leave school with skills and understanding I didn't have.

Dash, you know what it is like to look up at the face of a mountain and feel like you have no climbing gear, but, you know that you have climbed this kind of mountain before and conquered it. That struggle, that frustration and pain and the ability to persevere in spite of those, are strengths you are going to have naturally as an adult.

You understand that feeling of conquering a mountain and so when you meet another mountain even though it's tough and you probably want to run away, you know you can make it up there.

When everything comes easy to you as a kid and then again at university you can be sure that when you do come across a task that you don't know how to do and everyone around you seems to know as an adult you feel overwhelmed (like you do sometimes now). As an adult it is a very hard lesson to learn, to find a new way, to keep trying, to ask really dumb questions, because you kind of think - sheesh, I'm an adult I should already know this.

Do I
take a risk, 
ask a question, 
push harder, 
struggle again, 
do it badly rather than not doing it all, 
risk making a fool of myself
or, do I
deflect my inadequacy by playing the fool, 
stop trying anymore, 
shut down, 
run away
generally try to sabotage this whole thing?

Dash I hope that you keep pushing, that you keep trying and that when you look around at a group of friends who aren't struggling at all you take a little moment to tell yourself you've actually learned, or begun to learn something today and they may have only practised.

You are not the only one who is finding it hard and you are definitely not the only one who needs different skills to learn the same stuff.

You have bushwacked your way into creating an entirely new neural pathway and others have just run along a highway that is already there. Whose brain is getting stronger? Who is gaining more self-knowledge to equip them throughout their life? You are.

Learning something new always comes at an effort. All that effort you are investing is making your brain strong, it is increasing your capacity to understand how you learn and it's probably making you a more compassionate and understanding person - which might not seem that great now but it will really make you a great boyfriend to someone in the future!

There is no elite athlete, artist, lawyer, doctor, researcher, successful person who has not run at some point straight into something that was too hard for them - but their perseverance and their ability to keep at it until it did stick and it did make sense - that's what got them to the top of the podium.

Success in life is not guaranteed by how easy you find academic learning.

I made these images and words today to remind me about not running away from the hard and to remind me to keep trying as a teacher even when it feels like the hardest job in the world. Teaching is about making it hard and easy for everyone. Keep going Dash - as Dr Seuss says "You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."

Go out and conquer that learning mountain and when all seems too much remember that amazing a-ha feeling when you get it!

Learning is for the brave, and you Dash, you can choose to be brave even when you don't feel like it.