When I was young, school came easy to me. I never had issues grabbing concepts. I was the kid that cried on the last day of school, and spent my free time playing school with other kids. I enjoyed school, and considered myself to be good at it. Consequently, my feedback from my teachers was always positive, but when I reflect on it, never really specific.
Cue middle and high school. Material was progressing at a rate faster than I felt I could learn it. I had always been above grade level, and suddenly I had more classmates around me that were catching up to that same level, and some that completely surpassed me. I realize that this is a total first world problem, but it became a struggle. I felt like there was something wrong with me, and that the material increasing in difficulty wasn’t the problem—I was. Up until this point, I had only gotten pats on the back and praise. I was never given strategies for coping when I didn’t understand material.
I put a lot of pressure on myself, developed anxiety towards homework, and ended many night in tears because I just didn’t get it. Because I knew the types of grades I was capable of getting, I still did well in school. It just took a lot of work, and involved a constant feeling of trying to stay afloat.
When I got to college, started to get better. As an education major, I got to learn about learning. This was a turning point for me. While this information was taught to use with my future students, I also applied it to myself. I learned about how I learn best, and how to study in a way that was effective for me. In college, I worked just as hard as I did in high school. However, that feeling to trying to stay afloat started to fade away. Occasionally I get an assignment that drives me to tears, but those moments are far and few between.
During my junior year in college, I got a job at an after school program where I had to develop curriculum based lesson plans. I was given a group of about 30 kids to work with, and it was the closest experience I’ve had to being a teacher. I initially went into this job with the same perfectionist mindset that I applied to my homework. I quickly learned to be successful, I was going to need to ditch that mindset. I learned that no matter how great your lesson plans are, they will NEVER turn out exactly as you want. I learned I’m going to make mistakes. I had many conversations with my supervisor after the kids left. We talked about what went well, and what didn’t. I wasn’t constantly praised, but I was fine with that because the feedback I got from my supervisor was so helpful. Through trial and error, I learned that getting knocked down is inevitable. You just have to be willing to dust yourself off and try again.
Within the last year, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with myself as a learner. I realize that learning has no finish line. Learning is a journey. There will always be things I don’t know, but as long as I’m willing to learn more about them, I will be successful. This has led me to start asking more questions. When I’m reading a book and don’t know a word, I look it up. When I’m in a conversation with others and they start talking about a concept or event I don’t know, I pause and ask them to explain it to me. (Conversations about politics now take twice as long, but I feel like I gain way more this way! ;)) Ditching the notion that everything has to make sense at first glance, and accepting that learning has no finish line is has completely changed not only how I approach my homework, but how I see the world.