Monday, August 13, 2012

Things I Learned Over My Summer Vacation

Once again my summer swirled by faster than the blink of Ernesto's eye, leaving me somewhat misty-eyed and wondering as I always do: Just where in the Sam Hill did my summer go?

This time, however, I didn't even pretend to sort through the stuff I brought home for the summer. In fact, I even drove to school after one journalism workshop and unceremoniously dumped an array of stuff back into a pile I loosely designate as a pile of "stuff to deal with later."

In fairness, I did return to school again at the beginning of August  to tackle my "stuff to deal with later" pile and to make an effort to "take care of a few things." That significant attempt failed miserably--thwarted by newly waxed floors, blazing yellow caution tape and DO NOT ENTER signs.

How's a girl suppose to get anything done when the cosmic universe aligns and conspires against her?

So I decided to give up.


Without reservation.

Originally I planned to kick off my back-to-school blogging by writing some sort of sage advice or intelligent banter as I start my 26th year of teaching.

Instead, I think I'd rather write about my nifty little rafting adventure. I think there's a lesson in here somewhere. 

At the end of July, my husband and I traveled to Colorado and managed to squeeze in a nifty little rafting adventure along the way. Since I am not overly fond of roller coasters, heart palpitations or drowning, I signed us up for what probably could be categorized in the river rafting world as the WRR (Weenie Raft Ride) with Class II rapids.

But once we got to the rafting place, the nice people at Scenic River Tours asked if we wanted to "upgrade" our nifty little rafting adventure to a Class III rafting extravaganza of the Upper Taylor River since we were the only ones slated for the WRR.

After Josh, our 25-year-old guide and all-around nice guy, assured me that he would make every effort to (a) not toss me into the chilly 40-ish to 50-ish degree water or (b) bounce my head off a boulder or (c) in any way leave my children missing a parental unit, I agreed to the "upgrade." 

So-o-o-o my dears, here are the…

 5 Things Richie Learned 
On Her Rafting Trip 
That Can Be Applied To The Classroom

#5…Provide Essential Equipment… 
Despite duly specifying proper attire, rafters still manage to show up ill prepared wearing the wrong shoes or clothing. When school starts, we all know we will have students who appear on the first day of class without a pencil, pen, paper or clue. (Jeez Louise, I'll never understand how it can be a surprise that one needs something to write with and something to write on when attending school.)

The rafting company solves its little clueless problem by providing the proper shoes for those who show up in flip flops or expensive shoes. As an added bonus, the company also provides wetsocks to their customers so their feet don't get cold. Not having to worry about those kind of things, allowed us rafters to focus on the important things, you know, like paddling properly so you aren't tossed willy-nilly out into the river.

So perhaps on the first day of school instead of complaining about our students and their lack of preparation, we should provide some writing utensils and paper. You know, just to get everyone started on sure footing.

#4…Tell, Show, Do… 
I can unequivocally state that the ever-spectacular Josh would make a great classroom teacher. Even in the great outdoors, the educational mantra of "Tell, Show, Do" works.

You can tell me all you want how you want me to paddle, but I doubt that I will be able to replicate it. If you tell and show me, I might be able to paddle the way you want me to. But if you tell me, show me and let me practice it, well then, I just might make it to the end of our little Class III adventure without being tossed into the water and without my ever-patient-guide Josh popping me upside the head with his paddle.

#3 Practice Makes Perfect…
As we journeyed down the stream, I noticed one guide struggled with his rafters to get them to paddle correctly, so he moved his raft off to the bank of the river for his own paddle remediation. According to Josh, guides will keep their rafters there practicing until they finally get it. Meanwhile, the rest of us weren't penalized for the ineptness/ignorance/stupidity of others.  Instead, we were able to continue on with our journey.

As our school year progresses, we should remember to allot enough practice time for mastery and to remember not to penalize those students who do get it by forcing them to suffer through the remediation process. Let those kiddos continue on their journey.

#2 Leave well enough alone…
In our journey down the Taylor River, there were moments when Josh commanded that both my husband and I paddle in the same direction. There were other times when Josh commanded that my husband paddle one direction while I paddled in another. Both of those were moments where synchronization and group collaboration was not just important, but essential.

But there were also other times, when only one of us was instructed to paddle. Alone. By oneself. Without anyone else. Those times were equally important and critical.

Sometimes working alone is better and essential. As educators, we need to remember which serves us better. Otherwise, we'll end up with a class confused, headed in the wrong direction and drowning in educational flotsam.

And drum roll pah-leese, the #1 thing Richie learned on her rafting trip…

#1 Push Your Comfort Zone… 
OK, OK, OK so maybe it took a little bit of prodding and some assurances by both Josh and my husband, before I agreed to step outside my comfort zone. But stepping outside the predictable and venturing into the unknown did provide the "miles of smiles" promised for my rafting adventure as well as a new level of confidence--something difficult to achieve once you cross over the other side of 50.

So often our students fail in the classroom simply because they fear trying something new or fear moving beyond their own education comfort zone. We must remember to provide the necessary assurances for our kiddos to take the leap into uncharted waters and stretch themselves academically.

And perhaps more importantly, we should remember to step outside our own pedagogical comfort zone and take a risk with new methods, new materials and maybe even a new vision.

So that pretty much wraps up what I learned over my summer vacation. The next day as we headed back to the 100-plus temperatures wilting the great state of Texas, my husband and I groused about how we missed Josh and our river rafting adventure already.

In addition to referring to him as "a great/extraordinary guide,"  "the ever-patient Josh" and "all-around nice guy," we also added with a certain measure of sadness the following nomenclature: "Josh-the-son-in-law-we'll-never-have."

But that, my friends, is a story for another time and place. And yes, if my daughters ever read this post, they would be screaming, "OH MOM!" right about now.

But I don't care, I'm a Class III River Rafting fool.