Steely resolve in their eyes
Gaining inner strength is a skill that can indeed be learned
Being introduced to someone is always a bit of work for me, specifically the portions involving what I do for a living. When the inevitable “What do you do?” comes up, my answer of “teacher” always elicits the follow up of “Oh, what do you teach?” My response of “Outdoor Education” brings on another round of questions, and I understand why. Math teachers deal in equations and theorems, English teachers pass down the intricacies of language and mold critical thinkers.
What do Outdoor Education teachers teach? Instead of laying out my curriculum, let me tell a story. It was mid-December; I was leading a backpacking trip for a group of 8th grade girls on the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. The chill during the day was enough to force me into all of my layers, and with temperatures dropping into the teens at night, conditions could be downright dangerous.
We were well equipped and well prepared, but my girls didn’t seem to recognize that. All throughout the first day, I had pleas for me to lead them out of the woods. The girls became lethargic and disenchanted with the situation.
By the second morning on the trail, I was getting looks shot at me that had me thinking a mutiny was in the works. By that time, I was already heavily considering turning around. If the girls continued to be so careless someone could get hurt.
I prepared to tell them we were taking a side trail out at lunch time, but I shouldn’t have placed such little faith in them. Before I could make the announcement, they came to me with proposals for combining tents to save time on set up, a cooking plan that would allow enough hot water to fill an extra water bottle for every sleeping bag, and a hiking schedule devoid of the long breaks that had become all too common, to make sure we arrived to the campsite before the sun left us and the cold truly set in.
I looked up at my group of formerly hopeless 8th graders and saw a different steely resolve in their eyes. No more listless wandering or endless complaining. They had realized that in a moment of true adversity, their only way out was to band together and get to work. Even when I doubted them, and maybe even doubted the benefit of what I do, they were able to overcome.
In that lies my answer of what I do. I take students out of their bubble, find the limits of their comfort and push them from it. Some might ask why we would purposely put our students through these hardships, and I would answer that it’s because the next time one of those students has two tests and three quizzes in one week with a lab report due and fencing lessons from 4-6pm Monday through Thursday, they won’t say “I can’t do this.” That’s because they’ve pushed through real adversity in the past; they know how to find their second wind, and their third wind, and their fourth wind.
As we hiked out on the last day of that trip, one student fell and slipped on ice. I went over to check on her and noticed she was crying. I assumed trouble, but she stood up, looked at me and said, “I’m fine, I just need to get it out, let’s keep going.”
I shouldn’t say one of my proudest moments as a teacher involved a student crying, but seeing the emotional strength she had gained during that trip was reaffirming for me.
I believe that resiliency is not some innate trait some carry and some don’t. Like any other skill it can be practiced, learned and improved.
Bryant Race, Connecticut
If you are interested to read more articles like this::