Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Learning from our Teachers

They say that a great teacher doesn’t teach you, they lead you to discover things yourself. I believe in this completely and have had luck to have had many great teachers in my life, not just in the classroom. They have each taught me something different, and the greatest lesson is not usually the one apparent on the page in front of me.

My first two teachers of influence were my primary school teachers. Mrs Dobbs and Mr Harding taught me to love learning, and to always be inquisitive about things. They taught me to find answers for myself and never be happy with mediocre. They demanded the best, and by setting standards high you can achieve high.

My Highland dancing teacher, Mrs Hawke, taught me that kindness is inspiring. Students want to please their teacher, and even more so when that teacher is someone that they admire and love. Likewise my second piano teacher taught me that praise, patience, and kindness motivate a love and passion for of an activity, whereas my first piano teacher taught me that negativity does not.

But one of the biggest influences in my life was my first swimming coach, Roly Crichton. He taught me to fight. At times I truly hated him. He used to set me impossible goals. We would do relays, but I didn’t have anyone else on my team and had to swim the whole thing myself, and the other team got a head start. He used to pit me against boys twice my size and tell me to beat them. He used to set me long sets on impossible times, used to tell me that even though that was the fastest I had ever swum it wasn’t fast enough. He used to make me race every event in a carnival just to toughen me up. He used to yell at me, and I used to yell back. It wasn’t polite, it was passion and frustration, and those things drove me to be better. And it worked. As long as I believed it was an impossible task I wanted to conquer it. Mostly because I knew that he believed I could do it, therefore it wasn’t impossible. And this has been a theme in my life ever since. Tell me something is impossible and I will try and find a way of doing it. He used to say that they might be bigger, stronger, more experienced, have trained for more years and hours in better conditions, but you are tougher. And when it comes down to it, there are two people, in the same pool of water, and the tougher person will win. And I didn’t think this was impossible, I believed it because he believed it. This strategy didn’t work with all the swimmers, but it did with me. Thanks to him I swam in competitions around the world, met amazing people, won medals in Europe and Australia, and discovered a love of other cultures and people that is still driving my movements now.

Somehow, today I am a teacher. I need to learn this lesson again, but in a different form. I need to find ways of inspiring this level of motivation in my students. This time around the pool of water is a bit bigger – I have every type of student imaginable, and all of them will be inspired through different forms. Somehow I have to tap into all these different forms and utilize these internal motivations to produce achievement and success. And this means learning all the lessons I learned before from a different perspective. Teaching really is about learning, and although some may say this is an impossible task, that just inspires me to find a way to overcome it. 

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