On the other end of learning (or About teaching)

4 Mar

I am currently going through a phase of transition in which I feel that I’m simply waiting, not committing to anything, not having a definite purpose. It’s a new feeling for me, who has always had a plan, a schedule and a place to be. Somehow, this is my rebellion. This is the reason I haven’t been writing, because I felt I was not doing anything important or worth sharing and because I didn’t want to turn this blog into my personal diary of daily lamentations and frustrations.

Even so, I do enjoy keeping myself busy and among all little things that have crept into my schedule, like reading, watching series, finally playing some games, going out (all things I thought I missed and wanted to experience) I finally found something to write about:

This weekend I officially became a ski instructor.
I wrote an earlier post on my love of snow and skiing, but I never knew I could experience this sport from such an opposing point of view. I had no idea it could give me even more satisfaction and provide me with so many new emotions. I thought I had experienced almost every possible feeling in the past 16 years on snow, but I was so wrong.
To begin with, obtaining my certificate was far from easy work, and it has been the only thing I’ve been constantly putting effort into for the past few confusing weeks. It is simply not enough to know how to ski well, but you have to learn how to teach it as well. The things that you assume as natural and don’t pay attention to anymore are many and going back to the basics was a welcomed experienced. I received my written manual with all concepts that I knew or used without even thinking explained in detail and done practical hours on the slopes relearning the first steps on snow.

The instructor that taught me these things was amazing, one of the old generation from which I learned how to ski and the overall feeling was that of passing something on: leaving a legacy. It is why he has been very strict even commenting on my technique and always testing me with surprise questions and hypothetical situations.

Finally, the day of my exam came and I was taken by surprise. I knew I would only sustain the practical exam on that day but I soon found myself with a written test in front of me as well. Luckily I had revised the material by that day because I had prepared some questions. However the huge surprise came when I found out that I would get to teach on the exact same day.

I was shocked. I had previously only assisted at one class and now they were letting me alone with a student. It wasn’t that I wasn’t confident. I knew I know how to ski and had learned everything I needed to know about explaining it to someone, but the realisation of the fact that I had so much influence overwhelmed me. I was about to introduce someone to the sport I adore. Their first memory of putting on skies would forever remain related to my figure and my voice and my class. Wow. And even though I despise clichés, I have to use one here: With great powers comes great responsibility.

That person looked up to me. And it was my duty that she would enjoy her first lesson, that she would come back and that she would be safe on the slope. I was so nervous in the beginning because there were many other instructors watching me, including the overall boss and my supervisor. I was over thinking everything trying not to forget anything, while appearing calm and confident. But amazingly, a few minutes into the lesson, I started to forget about the others and about what was happening around me. I became so focused on getting that lady to bend her knees and keep her skies parallel that I started talking louder, giving directions and encouraging her without even noticing.

Nothing prepares you for that: for the moment when you start forgetting about the text book and just reacting to what the student does and correcting on the spot the mistakes you identify. After a while, she asked me the time and I saw we had already been on the slope for an hour and a half. Time flew and I wasn’t as stressed anymore.

Yes, I made some mistakes in the choice of terrain or the order of some elements. Yes, I forgot some warming-up exercise and yes, maybe I could have forced her to bend her knees earlier by thinking of an exercise. All these were pointed out to me afterwards and I was grateful because this way, next time I’ll be better and perhaps it will be easier for the student. But I also learned that I can manage and that I am capable of doing this by myself.  And in those two short hours I grew up in some ways that are simply not possible by other means.

When at one point she starting going downhill backwards because she positioned her skies in the wrong directions, I had to run and catch her and I did that instinctively. I learned that I do have those instincts and that I can trust them and that others could trust me. She was scared but I was there. And after the lesson, when she came to me and thanked me and told me she wasn’t scared anymore and that she was grateful that she felt she had learned something gave me such a satisfaction that I had never experienced before.
I had indeed left something, passed something on. I had just made a new ski lover and I am the person she’ll always remember when thinking about her first ski day. And what also amazed me was the spirit of comradely friendship among the instructors. The atmosphere among instructors and the mountain people in general is something great that always impresses me and I plan on developing this topic in another post but I need to mention it here as well. People I had never seen before came and congratulated me. Younger and older instructors called me colleague and offered to answer question and to let me assist them at their classes. All encouraged me and even when the boss scolded me a little for the things I had forgotten they all smiled and told me it was simply his duty to do so and that he wasn’t in fact mad at me. They gave me tips for the kind of exercised I could have done and also told me what I needed to pay attention to when teaching and skiing myself.

Wearing that ski instructor jacket is an incentive to ski in the best and most technical way you can and all pointed that out. I was no longer skiing only for myself, but I was promoting the school and the sport. I felt important and I felt part of something bigger. Unfortunately I also felt a little bit on the outside when afterwards I was taking the cabin and there were some others instructor I didn’t personally know and whom I felt were watching me, almost asking themselves who I was. For a moment I felt an intruder as if I had stolen that jacket but in the next second I remembered all those who helped me and realised I couldn’t possibly get to know each and every one of them after 2 hours of receiving that jacket.

I also became happy at the prospect of the friendship opportunities that are now lying in front of me. All those red jackets are friendly, awesome people, ready to help me and enjoy the snow and the teaching together with me. They aren’t figure of authority to me anymore on the slope, or people whom I wish to resemble. Yes I still admire them, perhaps even more because I now have a better understanding of how hard it truly is to teach, but I feel I belong. I have the same right to that jacket as they do and even though I still have lots to learn about teaching I realised they weren’t questioning me or my capabilities, they were simply curious because I was a new figure. There, in the team, everybody is supportive and once you get in, nobody doubts you.

I can’t wait to be properly hired and teach the next class. I know I’ll still be nervous and I’ll probably make some mistakes. But I now know I am good enough for those not to affect the quality of my teaching and the learning experience of my student and that it is the only way I can progress to become a better instructor. I will have other instructors who will become my friends by my side and I will progress alongside with my students.



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