Summer Learning

Colored PencilsFor those of us accustomed to the teacher role, summer is a great time to experience what it’s like to be a student again.

Teachers who use the summer for graduate study know exactly what this feels like: to have deadlines and assignments, manage time, work with classmates with varied personalities and styles, and be excited by some things and bored or frustrated by others.

As a former middle school teacher, it was easy to give advice that I did not have to follow: to tell an anxious seventh grader simply to do his best, to reassure a student hitting a hard spot that learning has its ups and downs, to suggest strategies for the one whose work was always late. But it is completely different to actually be that student.

A few years ago, I took up running. It was horrible. Really horrible. I was slow. It hurt. I was always the one running alone, at the back of the group, by myself. It was easy for so many others, why not for me? And thus I found myself having to take a bit of my own medicine: the counsel I had so blithely handed out to students. Be persistent. Progress is not linear. With effort, you can improve. And I did stick with it. And I have gotten better. But how humbling it was to be that newbie again.

My sister, a graphic designer for years, recently ventured into oil painting, an entirely different medium and creative process. Highly successful and ‘at home’ in her design work, in painting classes she found herself a beginner again, with trials and errors, successful experiments and frustrations, and often surrounded by those much more experienced and skilled than she. It had been many years since she had had that feeling of being not-at-home and at ease in her work and vocation. And yet it has been enormously exciting and reinvigorating.

This fall we will welcome students to our schools and classrooms. At some point in some class – maybe even our own! – most of them will have similar, unsettling feelings. It can help if we have, too – not years ago, but maybe just weeks ago. Summer is a great time to be a newbie again.

The Commons is taking a summer break! Check back for our next post on August 4.