We together make a limb

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 01 2013

I finally felt like my students.

Today I went golfing for the first time with a coworker. He’s also a TFA teacher and we’ve been close since we started the program (has it really only been a year?). I’ve never been golfing and I didn’t even know what to wear so I had to ask. I then verified my choice my asking him what, exactly, he would be wearing. He picked me up and I was fidgeting in the car with my collared shirt and visor. We drove up and I felt immediately out of place. In my head, there were going to be dividers at the driving range but instead it was an open strip of turf where well dressed people were lined up hitting. I started to squirm.

People were going to see me struggle. I was intimidated. Admittedly, I suffer from anxiety and trying new things can be really stressful for me but I was still interested in trying something new and I was really bored at home so I was determined to make the most of it. We got the bucket of golf balls and he started setting up in between two other experienced golfers. I immediately stared and tried to see who I thought was better than who. I asked my coworker if I could just watch for a minute and he laughed and shrugged. The air was thick, the sun was bright, and I was a beginner surrounded by experience.  A young girl stood a few people down and I was really, really aware of how much better she was even though she was so young.

Now, my rational mind would remind me that I had never held a golf club before and it wasn’t about age it was simply about my lack of exposure to the experience ahead. Why was I so worried I’d miss the ball or cause grass to go everywhere or drop the club? Those are rookie mistakes and I WAS A ROOKIE. I should be making those mistake so I can learn from them.  What sense did it make that I was nervous to make the mistakes that beginners make? Why was a part of me trying to expect myself to be immediately competent at something I’d never done before? Why were my feelings prevailing over my awareness that I was not going to be good until I had at least started trying? Why couldn’t I appreciate an opportunity to get better with every minute?

My coworker pulled me out of my own head by telling me to grab a club. I whined about how I wanted to watch more and he just stared and repeated himself. “Grab a club.”  “But I don’t even know which one to grab!” “any of them. The higher the number the easier it is to hit the ball. But we aren’t even focused on that yet. Are you right handed or left handed?” Suddenly I was seven shades of insecure. I write with my right hand, I throw with my left. How do I know what hand is dominant in golf? I was second guessing and losing information that I had known if you’d asked me in the car on the drive to the golf course. I stammered and eventually decided I was right hand dominant and he started to show me how to grip the club and I was a mess. I didn’t understand. I just wanted to watch. I didn’t want the responsibility of trying. The guy next to me was really, really good. There was an approaching four year old that could probably teach me a thing or two. I didn’t want to be bad at something in front of other people who were not at the same level as me.

Eventually I got the grip and he told me a few basic techniques and he asked me to swing. He just wanted to see what my natural instincts were so that we could establish a starting point of things for me to correct. “Man, I just want to watch!” I demanded. He shook his head at me “You’re worse than our students.”  And all of a sudden my experience opened up to my ability to relate to my students.  I was self-conscious because I didn’t know if I belonged, I was an amateur and terrified i’d look stupid, I was wanting to be good without working for it, I was forgetting everyone starts somewhere, I forgot how to have fun learning something new.

“I just don’t get it.” I sighed. He clapped, a few golfers looked over. “Good! See, now I know you’re struggling to make sense of it in your head. What exactly don’t you get? What’s stopping you from trying?” I don’t know why but his celebration at my admitting I was just totally lost felt really good. I loosened up. “I’m not sure how I swing. Like, I don’t have the basics of how it should look or feel.”  He prompted me to try a few things and came over and corrected my arms a few times and then left me alone to try the basics of swinging without the insecurity of having someone watch and critique. I called him back over a few minutes later with more specific questions and concerns and he addressed them. He let me watch him a few more times. We tried a few more things. And suddenly I was laughing and learning. I’d get shy when new people walked up and I’d choke if I felt like anyone was aware of how much I sucked but I was also enjoying myself and actually trying. I had a good coach.

I learned how it feels to be embarrassed about trying something new. I related to having personal expectations. I understood the instinct to quit unless you’re going to be great. I learned how important it is to express confusion. I learned the role of well crafted questions. I learned the reward of trying and growing.

Today was the first time all summer I felt a little excited to get back in the classroom.


One Response

  1. Jaraka

    I could have written this exact post! I went golfing for the first time this summer and felt the same way. I really appreciate the way you relate it to our kids. It makes so much sense. Thanks. :)

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