by Brian Keaney
When I moved back to New England from my island paradise, it was with the intention of becoming a teacher. Only a day after landing I arrived at the MTEL testing site in Quincy at 7 am, though my jetlagged body thought it was 1 am, and I passed on the first try. While it was not an experience I’d particularly like to repeat, it was memories of my days as a substitute – and the idea of making teaching a full time vocation – prior to my departure for that small rock in a big ocean that made it worthwhile.
During one such day at a middle school a gym teacher requested that I fill in for him. While not my favorite class to sub, it did have its benefits. One of those pluses was that there was a radio in the gym, and the music the students chose was usually tolerable. I also really liked this particular group of kids, and was always glad to spend a period or two with them.
On this particular day a large group of 7th grade girls who were waiting their turn to get in the game decided it wasn’t enough to push the limits of acceptable volume while playing Daniel Powter’s Bad Day, so they also decided to sing along. About halfway through I took a momentary respite from my refereeing duties to ask them to turn the radio down for a moment and then inquired, “Who sings this song?”
With a solitary voice they loudly proclaimed the singer’s name and, when I told them that they should keep it that way, they sent up a barrage of mock indignation as only a group of 13 year old girls can do. To this day I think about those girls every time I hear the song, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. I was also reminded of them today when teaching a very different set of girls a slightly different skill.
This morning I taught my first lesson as a volunteer ski instructor with Youth Enrichment Services. It was a unique experience with four students ranging in abilities and ages far beyond what should normally be placed in a class together, but somehow I muddled through, and I think at least half of them gained something from the class. One was simply too good for me to really be able to teach much to, and the other was good enough that I focused on the two who needed the most help, regrettably to her detriment.
It was also a learning experience for me, as I was acutely aware that I was responsible for their safety during an activity that may have given me my first concussion a few weeks ago. (Since I don’t believe in medicine I never had it checked out, and thus will never know for sure, but I think the memory loss and scar on my forehead is a pretty good indication there was.) I also discovered my own limits as an instructor in what I was able to teach, how well I was able to teach it, and how I was able to – or not – combine both a general lesson and some individualized instruction in the few short hours I had with them.
Part of the problem with the varying ability levels in the class was that this was the first time some of the girls had been with the program, and thus we had to rely on their self-reporting for placement purposes. They all were graded by me at the end of the lesson, so now at least there is a somewhat objective baseline for their future trips.
I was also trying to take stock of my own abilities, of what worked and what didn’t work, so that I can try and measure my own improvement over the course of the ski season. During my half hour of monitoring the bunny slope this afternoon I know I became more adept at skiing backward (I was carving some pretty nice turns), and I hope that by the Last Run I can say my teaching skills will have improved at least as much.