caught in the middle

by Sarah Luna

It’s hard being a beginner. It’s even harder being a beginner and an “expert”. When I was simply a beginner, I could villify those who taught me–blaming them if I didn’t understand. But as a graduate student, I’m responsible for my own learning. I’m the expert to my undergrads. And I know I’m not solely to blame if they fail.

I graded my kids’ second assignment this weekend. And though I saw marked improvement, there was still much to correct. This brings me to my current musing: how much wrong should I point out to a beginner?

I’m a beginner at competitive ballroom dance. Before Monday, I didn’t know there were 10,000 things that could go wrong during the cha cha basic. There are. I was doing all of them. “Feet turned out, push through the toes, straight leg, knees kissing on the check, chest out, hips rotated, triangle space between the legs, and finally smile for goodness sake…”

However, being told all of that at once did not help me in the slightest. It just confused me more until I looked like a wild-eyed person hopping across hot sand.

So let’s apply that lesson to my undergrads. Some of them, frankly, are still doing everything wrong. I want to give good feedback. I want to perfect their skills. But it’s useless for me to nitpick their every error because it’ll confuse and befuddle them. Now I have to prioritize what I want them to master.

Likewise, I need to prioritize what I need to master. I’m my own teacher now. Sure, I go to lessons and benefit from instruction. But I can’t go back to being a beginner passively learning whatever is thrown at me. I take control now to actively teach.

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