Monday, April 21, 2008

Can Learning be like having a fear of heights?

As we stood around the rim of the Grand Canyon, my husband and this other lady started up a conversation. They both were talking about their fear of heights and how they wished they didn’t have it because they really wanted to hike in the Grand Canyon. My husband has been a real trooper during our trip because he has tried to overcome his fear because he knows how much I really wanted to hike down into the canyon.

Meanwhile, this lady’s husband and teenage son were talking to me about our family member’s fear of heights. This dad told me that their son kept scaring the mom by going to the edge and pretending to fall, which made her fear even worse and asked if I had any words of wisdom to give to his son. I mentioned that I let my husband lead down the trail and just encouraged him and tried to be sensitive to his fear. I let him know that we could turn around at any time his fear got too much for him and we would try another day. When he got to places that were too open for him, I would get beside him to steady him so he could get through the tough places. If I had teased my husband or rushed him on the hike, the whole thing would have been over and he would have refused to even try. I mentioned to the teenager that by scaring his mom, the trip could end abruptly and he needed to think about his ultimate goal. Was it to scare his mom and get a good laugh or to actually do some hiking and enjoy the trip? The teen actually listened to me and said he never thought of it that way.

Of course this made me think about my students fear of learning. How many times have I tried to push them too fast and not think about their comfort level? Could I have been more sensitive and encouraging? Maybe I could have broken tasks down into smaller steps for them to be successful instead of overwhelming them with the whole thing. I have seen some teachers ridicule or humiliate students and this saddens me. No wonder these students just shut down and refuse to work. My husband is always telling me that “you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” and it really is true. When things get too tough for my students, I need to find a way to stand beside them and steady them in order for them to get over the rough patches. Maybe they will be more successful with learning new things and willing to try to learn more.


Clix said...

Are your students really afraid of learning? Or did you mean something else by that?

loonyhiker said...

clix: many of my students are afraid of learning because by the time they have reached my class on the high school level, they have "failed" in so many things that they fear even trying. This is the fear that I'm talking about. They feel they have given the best they can and people still say they aren't trying or they are lazy. I try to get them past this fear.