Being a Student

16 May

One quick thought, as I am positively buried under end-of-the-year grading, exam writing, comments, awards, etc. Well, truth be told, another reason I am buried right now is because I went away for a long weekend to get my PADI open-water diver certification and am now trying to catch up.

But it was worth it, and not just because I got to dive off the Perhentian Islands and see giant sting rays, schools of barracuda, and lion fish. It was also worth it because I remembered (uncomfortably) what it’s like to be student.

I had to learn a new, scary, and technical skill. I felt nervous and out of my element learning an entirely new skill, like how to breathe and be buoyant at the bottom of the ocean floor. I had to take several quizzes and a written test that required some pretty basic math skills (chart reading to find pressure groups and time limits for planning safe dives), and the anxiety I felt while taking the test was acute. I was fully aware I didn’t remember how to do several of the math questions, and I felt “dumb.” I remember one moment when I could not focus on the test at all because I was so anxious about the problems I did not know how to approach — I couldn’t remember which side of the chart to use for which part of the equation. I had to remind myself to relax for several minutes before I could concentrate and move forward, but I was still anxious, thinking my friends would score better than me, or I that I would fail. I also worried that I would mess up the dive somehow and ruin it for the others.

In short, it was great to be reminded what our students feel like every day. It’s easy to tell kids to relax, not to stress about grades, but there was no pressure at all for me to pass my course — I could take it unlimited times, and the only pressure I felt I put on myself. No one was grading my performance, and no university would ever see my performance on a report card. And, still, I was full of anxiety and so relieved when it was over and I passed.

The moral of the story is: make sure you seek opportunities to learn new things so you can feel “dumb” and not only like the expert.

It’s humbling to feel “dumb” — which is how many of our students feel every day when they score worse on a quiz than friends, or when they have a big presentation due and freeze up. We encourage them to try new things, to be themselves, to grow by taking risks.

But how often do we ourselves practice what we preach?

I’ve already booked my next two dives for the first week of summer break. I’m still nervous (it’s all quite new and daunting to me), but I think that’s a good thing.

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