Last weekend I went skiing.
I always have a romanticized view of what my ski day will look like. I see myself gliding down the hill, smiling as I whoosh by the other skiers. Then lounging in the lodge with a cold drink looking wind-swept, yet healthy and robust.
Instead, my ski day often looks like it did this past weekend: stand in line for rentals while people cut in line in front of me, making me irritated and annoyed before I’ve even put on my boots.
Then, wait in line for what seems like forever before getting on the chair lift to take me to the top of the mountain, which suddenly seems humongous.
I start to panic the closer to the top I get and I’m terrified to get off the chair lift for fear that my poles will get stuck or that I’ll fall on my face or god forbid, get dragged back down the hill by my belt-loops.
My fear only escalates when I realize I have to go down the hill wearing these stupid toboggans on my feet. The entire time I am skiing, I am talking to myself, “You can do it. You can do it. Not going to die today. Nope. Not today.”
I am terrified probably 90% of the day when I am skiing.
I can only liken it to giving birth – it’s a horrible,messy, terrifying experience, only made bearable by the exhilaration you feel when you finish successfully.
But despite my fears, I keep pushing myself to do it.
As adults, we rarely do things of our own free will that terrify us. We work very hard to build lives that are comfortable, that allow us to do things that we are good at, and we generally avoid those things that have not proven to be our strong suits.
Kids don’t have that option in school.
They are forced to take all subjects…whether they have an aptitude for them or not.
Reading is hard for you? Oh well! You better buckle down and just do it.
Math makes you break out into a cold sweat? Too bad! Everybody has to do math. Get a move on!
I think sometimes we, as teachers, forget that it’s hard to do things that are…well…hard.
When we force ourselves to do something outside of our comfort zone, I think it gives us a little more empathy and understanding for the child who is terrified of presenting in front of the class or the teen who refuses to read aloud because it’s just too embarrassing.
One time, when I was teaching English as a Second Language to university students who were almost unilingually French, I decided to take a French course.
Now, my French is…autrocious. It really is. It’s awful. But I took the course once a week at night and then during the day, I taught my French students English.
Understandably they did not want to speak aloud because they were afraid that others would make fun of their poor English.
So, one day, I stepped outside of my English-immersion-only philosophy, and I asked the students if they would help me with the oral presentation I had to do in French that night.
They all watched as I struggled to make it through my presentation. Some of them laughed (not maliciously, they just couldn’t help it…I was that bad), most winced, and some smiled encouragingly. When I was all done, they jumped on the opportunity to help me with my grammar and pronunciation.
The mood of the class changed after that day. My students saw that it was OK to make mistakes. They saw that I wasn’t perfect and that I certainly didn’t expect them to be either.
If we want our students to take risks, then we need to be prepared to do so ourselves.
So, take a Spanish class, ski down a hill, jump of a cliff (into the water, of course…don’t be an idiot). Take a chance. Risk looking silly.
Remember what it feels like to be scared