Why don’t paddlers improve?

Why don’t paddlers improve?

Barriers to learning are interesting, and hard to pinpoint at times.  Many paddlers never pursue any instruction, certain their skills are up to par.  Some paddlers go to endless classes and symposiums, but seem to never get any better in their skill set.  Curious, right?

There are a lot of barriers to learning-fear, misunderstanding, lack of a prerequisite skill set, inappropriate gear, pre-conceived notions etc., but in my experience the single biggest barrier is the idea that the student already knows what is being taught.  And I have to confess, I’ve been guilty of it myself.  I remember the day I was taught I needed to open my mind.

I spend my days as a teacher in a juvenile detention facility, at the time I was teaching science and math to the worst kids society has to offer.  As a military vet I was probably more of a hardass than I needed to be, but for the most part it worked.  At this facility, the population changes daily as the police bring in the freshly arrested every day, and those who’ve been there go home, to juvenile jail, or real jail.  Hard job, but somebody’s got to do it.

I had a student on the “oldest” kid unit, pushing 18 years old.  Unfortunately, I’d had him since he was 11 or 12.  Always in trouble, always getting in trouble and violating his probation.  In general, a firm hand kept him in line as he needed constant attention.  But one day, things escalated-I don’t remember the particulars, but at the end of the conflict he was put out of class and locked up in his cell.  I won, again, because he still didn’t understand he had no chance of winning.

It’s always been my personal policy to touch base with a kid who I had problem with the next day, ensure he or she understood my rules, and move on.  In retrospect my approach was MY approach, there wasn’t much middle ground. I went to the unit where this kid was housed the next morning, and pulled him aside for a chat.  Basically I said to him, “You know it doesn’t have to be a train wreck every time we’re in the same room” and extended my hand for a shake.  To my surprise, he grabbed the hand and followed through with a hug and “I’m sorry.”  Powerful.

I realized the flaws in my past approach right away.  He didn’t need an ass-kicking, he needed a little understanding, a role model, some space to vent, some time to process-

I had known exactly how to do my job,seriously I was certain of it,  but pursued big adjustments right after that.

And that translated to my paddling as well.  Whatever I know, will change.  Best practices will evolve, and I’ve got to evolve with them.


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