Saturday, January 29, 2005

Teaching - and trying to be a grown-up.

Finally a quiet evening at home to go over how Wednesday night went - that was my first chance to help teach a formal beginner-level paddling class since 2001. It's been a long time & I was afraid I wouldn't remember - but it was really exciting how fast things started shaking loose from long-term memory. And it was good to rediscover that the stage fright (which has always been a problem for me - I just get scared when everybody's looking at me)mostly ends once we pass the initial talking stages and I get engaged in the challenge of actually finding the key to making something work for the student.

I did find myself in an interesting situation though - I tend to be very patient & if there's someone who's feeling nervous, I tend to end up working with that person. Problem is that at some level - I feel like sometimes I am TOO willing to hold a person's hand when they might learn more someone who's a trifle LESS patient.

Well - in this case I don't think it was bad - it was the first class in a series of six, so it was very introductory. Usually the first thing that happens in a beginner class is a thing called the "wet exit" where all the students practice falling out of their kayaks. No, really. This is necessary - we are using decked (closed) kayaks with sprayskirts and there's always a chance of capsize, which is not a problem unless a person panics. Which is of course quite possible because the natural reaction to suddenly finding yourself upside-down, underwater, in a boat that you're attached to is to freak out, it's just completely contrary to every self-preserving air-breathing instinct we land mammals possess. The intentional capsize & bail-out makes sure that everybody knows what they need to do to get out of their boat & to get past that potential panic moment in a controlled fashion with an instructor RIGHT THERE ready if anything goes wrong. I'd say 97% of the time the first wet exit goes fine. When somebody does panic, the instructor can flip the person rightside up very fast - then it's time for some deep breathing & another try (sans spray-skirt if necessary - repeated until the panic gets under control - if it doesn't, might be time to talk about whether kayaking is the right sport)

Now the other thing that the wet exit does is get the student through The Worst Thing That Can Possibly Happen right away. A good kayaker is very fluid - a tense person with a stiff spine is going to have a much harder time controlling their kayak. Besides, it's supposed to be fun & how much fun is it to paddle around in a pool being afraid to capsize? Capsizing really isn't that awful - especially in a pool - so the wet exit practice lets a person work through that fear right at the start, they discover it's really not scary & then they can relax, enjoy, and learn.

Except when they won't work through it.

One of the students has just gotten over a case of neuropathy affecting her legs. I didn't know what exactly this was but have now read up on it & know a little more which will hopefully help me work with her. Without going into detail, symptoms include pain, spasms & sometimes loss of coordination. In other words, this is not something that's going to make you trust your body to do what you ask it to do when you ask it to do it - quite the contrary. So - coming out of this, she's understandably nervous & managed to psyched herself right out of trying. We did do a variation - she tipped with her legs out of the boat, falling out as the boat went over, but at least getting the feeling of pushing the boat past the tipping point & nothing bad happening. But I do wish I had been somehow persuasive enough to get her to try the full drill at least once as now she'll have all week to dwell on being scared instead of thinking about how easy it was in the end (and I know that she would have done it fine).

We did have a long talk about irrational fears. Problem is moving from talking to doing.

Been there myself enough times, from that high-dive I came down from BY THE LADDER - dammit - when I was in 2nd grade or so to that long shaky moment of balancing on my toes on the edge of the platform on my first jump at the New York Trapeze School last summer - oh, yes, I was terrified, but dammit I was not coming down by ladder that time. Nice thing about getting older is that I'm getting better at charging through that moment of fear that precedes doing something that turns out to just be a total blast.

Next week I think I will get one of the other instructors (and I'll use the biggest one) to capsize & show her how I can right him - I know that what I will do as a student depends a lot on how much I trust my instructor, so maybe if I can convince her she can trust me to get her back up to the air no matter what happens, then she can work through the exercise. I believe that once she does, she'll find out that this thing that she's finding so hard to do is actually pretty easy, we'll have a good relieved laugh, and move on from there. If not, well, no spray skirt & on with the basics anyways - maybe once she's more comfortable in the boat & with us, she'll give it a shot.

speaking of irrational fears...yep, a certain guy did indeed show up for the 2nd half of the session & I had to fight back a strong desire to run away. I wasn't a saint - I couldn't look him in the eye & say hello like a civilized person - but I also wasn't truly horrible. In fact did sort of OK in one way. I'd told the very small group of mutual friends who know what happened that he'll still be paddling with us, and I don't want anyone snubbing him because of what happened. We've got a good group and keeping the social fabric of our paddling circle more or less in one piece is more important to me than winning a popularity contest. I've tested that fabric enough by talking to ANY mutual friends & damaging it wouldn't fix anything & would in fact be a loss to all involved - so why do it? Anyways, this was the first test of that declaration & when it came to a moment where I did have a chance to go back on what I said & pressure these folks to show that they were "loyal" to me - I didn't.

Doesn't mean that looking up and seeing him didn't feel like being kicked in the gut by a Clydesdale. But I did manage not to totally knuckle under to stupidness. Helped that I was able to sink myself deep into the teaching I was so glad to be rediscovering.

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