Hard Day, Great Outcome


In my defense, this event happened before I became a special education teacher.

Early on when I was running my first running kayak tour and instruction business I was introduced to a fellow who ran a program in Virginia Beach for adults with mental retardation.  He was a big believer in experiential education, and was super excited to get some of the people in his program on the water with me.  I knew it would be a challenge, but I figured if I kept them in tandem kayaks and kept a close eye on them that it could be a fun time for all.  Plus, to be honest that was back when I still knew everything.

We went to the boat ramp at what was then called Seashore State Park in Virginia Beach.  It is flat water and it’s easy enough there to stay in the shallows away from motorboat traffic.  The pre-trip brief went just like any other.  Everyone stood there nodding their heads that they understood what I was saying, mimicked my “air-paddling” technique, and put on the life jackets. They totally played me, as I found out as soon as we launched.

Instantaneously, I knew I had overestimated everything about this trip-the participant’s grasp of the pre-trip brief, their ability to paddle given the amount of instruction given, and mostly my ability to keep this a smooth evolution.

There were seven participants from the program, along with one of their staff, and me.  I had figured a four to one ratio would be fine, and we had actually exceeded that.  The staff member shared a tandem with the one individual he thought would be least able to figure it out, and I was in a solo sea kayak.  The remaining six participants were in tandem kayaks.

I started launching the boats.  Immediately one did a big turn and paddled straight into the marsh and stuck there.  One just started paddling in a big circle, and the third headed for the channel.  I figured the boat stuck in the marsh wasn’t in danger, so I had the boat with the staff guy try to straighten out the circle boat.  I chased down the boat heading for the channel and coached them back closer to the other boats.  The guys in the boat that was stuck in the reed were still paddling forward.  It took a lot of yelling, but finally I got them to stop paddling.  Then I showed them how to paddle backward.

The conversation went this way-

Me, paddling backwards  “Like this!”                                                                                                 Them paddling forward “Like this?”                                                                                                 “No, like this!”                                                                                                                                         “Like this?”                                                                                                                                               “No, Like THIS!”  Admittedly I somehow thought more volume might be helpful about now. This went on until I jumped out of my boat, pulled them off the shore and turned them around.

The one boat kept trying to get to the boat channel so I leashed it up and got that under control.  Then one big fella was on the verge of getting seasick with the six-inch chop.  And so on, and so on.  It was by far one of the hardest guiding trips with the level of “mother henning” I had to do, and I was redlining on effort and stress.  Thankfully, about  the time we hit the beach I had an epiphany, these boys were having fun!!

We had a little lunch and some laughs.  My stress subsided, but I was still worried about the trip back.

We were able to paddle back to the ramp with no more drama and everyone enjoyed it.  As the crow flies, we went about 500 meters, twice.  We had two more great outings that summer.  I learned a lot.

4 thoughts on “Hard Day, Great Outcome

  1. I taught my Downs Syndrome nephew to paddle. He took to it quickly and was very fast. I was the only one who could keep up with him. He was also quite heavy when he had to be towed but it’s all good. Those kids you took out will fondly remember that day for the rest of their life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice story, thank you for sharing. I’ve had some knowing chuckles during many parts of the story being an outdoor educator and currently a school psychologist so we have a bit in common!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great teaching story! As teachers, it is oft times difficult to remember that student and teacher have very different perceptions and expectations. We are looking at the experience through totally different glasses. The challenge for the teacher is to figure out what glasses the student has on!

    Liked by 1 person

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