Teaching and Learning and Breakthroughs

Teaching is tiring. Learning is even more so. Teaching can be practiced until it becomes an art. After years of doing it you occasionally get thrown by a student’s question, but for the most part you get better the more you do it (this refers to teaching, not content knowledge). Learning is the act of experiencing and coming to terms with something new, or a new way of perceiving something you’re already familiar with. It’s tiring because you’re actively rewiring your brain and challenging your previous beliefs. With both teaching and learning, to get the maximum results you have to invest all (or definitely most) of yourself into the endeavor. By floating through and picking up a fact here and there you’re probably missing most of the big picture, and definitely missing the nuances that differentiate the intermediate practitioner from the expert.

From a teaching perspective, one difficulty in running our ten-week intensive semester course is to keep people wanting to invest themselves fully, day after day and week after week. Unlike a college semester where the student attends classes each day for a few hours, here they’re busy from sunup to sundown, and even through the night experimenting with different shelters and learning the lore and navigational applications of the night sky. It’s exhausting mentally. But the rewards are tangible and observable in both confidence and skill, and these are enough to keep the motivation level high most of the time. The rest of the time, when people are feeling low after a spell of bad weather or struggling with a particular skill, is when I have to really work hard to manage student energy and interest levels.

My point is that the Earth Skills Semester Program is taxing on the students and me alike. It isn’t easy for either party, and there is an enormous amount of material for me to present and the students to assimilate. But the look on a student’s face after they spend a night in the forest in a shelter of their own construction, or after they get their first friction fire, or after completing a hundred-mile trip through the bush, these make it worthwhile.

I thought of this yesterday as we were finishing work on the sauna. It was tiring and hot and energy levels were low. Then two things happened: First a student got her first friction fire after working at it for several weeks, and second another student told me that the boogeyman died the night before when he didn’t feel like an outsider at his shelter in the woods, but rather a part of of the forest.

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