Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flip-Turns and Tolerating Incompetence

In real life, I am a writer and a teacher -- specifically a computer applications instructor.

This came to mind very sharply as I was doing my morning swim.  I am learning to do flip turns, and while I can do one, it doesn't feel as fluid or natural as the open turn.  I don't pop out those sleek flip and glides a more accomplished swimmer does.   I'm still feeling like a kindergartner learning a somersault. So, it does diminish the pleasure of the swim a bit.

What brought my profession to mind?

In my role as an applications instructor, many of my students are professionally accomplished people, often with advanced degrees, who are used to a strong sense of mastery in their work.  This particular group is notoriously difficult when placed in a computer classroom.

I think as one gets older, one has developed a sense of mastery over many skills, so that by the time one is in one's mid-thirties or so, one doesn't necessarily work as hard to learn new things.  I break with many educators saying that it is necessarily harder for an older person to learn a new skill, per se.  At least, I don't think the knowledge acquisition is really the issue.

The issue is that being incompetent at something, especially when one is used to competence, is painful.  Tolerating that pain is an added problem when one is trying to learn a new thing.  It's why kids seem to be more "natural learners" in my strong opinion.  Sure, sure, one can learn well when one's brain is under development, but few children have any real sense of mastery at something from a young age, and they're used to trying, failing, being clumsy at what they're doing and don't feel it as strongly as this horrid, alien and painful thing.

I often wonder if children who are "naturally talented" at something  then go on to be no more than average in their lives, or are even underachievers as they hit their high school years may not be proof of this concept as well. They got the middle-aged mindset of taking comfort only in what they are good at far too young!

I remind myself of that when I am resisting doing drills (god, I feel so clumsy with the closed fist drills!) or when I trying to let myself off from practicing my flip turns during my lap swims.  I feel a certain responsibility to set the example for my students, so that they are slower to label themselves as "untalented at computers" and more willing to practice even when they feel clumsy at what they're doing.
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