Miss Coco and I

Miss Coco and I

When I was a teen, I spent a couple of vacations horseback riding. It was in Cuba, and there was not much system to it. My brothers and I would rent horses in the morning (it was a big country park called Escaleras de Jaruco) and spend the whole day on horseback. I loved it.

Fast forward a few decades to now. In the time in-between, I may have ridden less than ten times, mainly on designated trails. So when I decided a few months ago to take advantage of a free lesson deal, I did it with trepidation. Learning English riding at my age feels borderline ridiculous. Good thing that at my age I do not really care about ridiculous anymore.

Sara the trainer is young and bubbly, and oozes positivity. During the past months (I take one class per week), she has taken me through the very basics and some bareback riding to practice leading with movement and voice only. Every time I miss a class (or a whole month as recently) she patiently walks me through the process again from square one.

All in all, I love it. I love the connection with the horse, Miss Coco. I enjoy Sara’s approach of trusting the horse and communicating with them. And of course I relish the exercise.

So what this has to do with my usual topic on education?

This morning, as I was painfully two-pointing and getting frustrated by how much I have lost for being off one month, I thought about what a silly client I must be for Sara. She trains people to become competitive riders, and here she is walking me around and tugging at my toes and knees to have them in the right position. We both know that I will never become good at this. But she is encouraging and positive. She gives me feedback and shows little tricks. As a result, I enjoy horseback riding, and want more challenges. I enjoy it even if my muscles burn and my back protests after every class.

In summary, Sara is a great teacher.

It came to me how easily we focus in class on our stellar students, the ones who do well, who want to become scientists and doctors, the ones who perform closer to our level. And how often we lose sight of those who know they will not be A students, but still may enjoy the ride, may still learn a lot and feel a deep sense of accomplishment.

From this year’s courses, I have five students who are coauthors of posters that will be presented at the AAAS conference  student competition next February. They are the typical non-traditional students: all work, and one is an active military.

I am immensely proud of them. They are extremely accomplished students who did very well in my classes.

But after this morning’s exercise, I wonder about the many others. And I promise to myself to look harder after each student. Because there is much happiness and accomplishment that can result even at a “lower” level of knowledge. And as educators, it is our goal to reach the “bliss point” of learning for each of our students.

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