Sunday, November 18, 2012
Nate and I were headed south on Route One well before sunrise. A couple of hours later we pulled off at a gas station, puzzling over the map when a car with a familiar kayak on its roof passed by; "There goes Ed." We followed him to the AMC cabin on Knubble Bay, where we met the others- a dozen of us in all. We were there as practice students for several candidates assessing as ACA Level 5 instructors. For the next two days, we would be their guinea pigs.
Sometimes, practice students are referred to as teabags, since getting dipped repeatedly into the ocean is usually part of the drill, but I'm told that various other connotations have brought this term out of favor. Practice students are needed for ACA assessments, and if possible, you want to get real students- not someone just pretending that they've never heard of torso rotation. We've had practice students for Instructor Development Workshops, and I had them for my L3 Instructor assessment. Some were great; others were challenging in the way that any student can bring along their own hurdles. The challenges usually involve ego... not accepting that you might have something to learn from the instructor candidates.
Why be a practice student? The short answer is free instruction. The long answer...
At the AMC cabin, we separated into two groups. Our instructors, Mark and Danny introduced themselves and we got some sense of how the day would go. I'd paddled with both of the other students, Ed and Jenna. Todd Wright would be the assessor that day and would switch with Josh Hall (recipient of the ACA 2012 Excellence in Instruction Award) for Day 2. In a way, I think we all just wanted to get onto the water. Until then, we would be sussing each other out, wondering how skilled the others were, how we would fit in- or if we would be wet, cold and out of our element for the next two days. If I were an L5 candidate, I'd worry that the students are either too skilled and I'd have nothing to teach them, or that they're not proficient enough. Either way, you try to figure out what your students need to learn and how you'll make that happen.
We spent the first day in the mouth of the Kennebec River, practicing in the surf on Popham Beach and in the current out toward the middle. For Level 5 students, the day might involve more coaching than lessons, our instructors observing and getting us to understand how we might paddle better. If you count the assessor, the instructor to student ratio was 1 to 1: not bad.
The next day, we launched in Knubble Bay and used the current around Goose Rocks and Lower Hell Gate. I'd hoped for some rock gardening out at the Thread of Life or Damariscove Island, but conditions looked a bit small. So, while you can't always count on swell and wind, tidal current is fairly dependable, and it's tough to teach L5 skills in L2 conditions. We didn't have a lot of current, but in a way, the mild flow is almost better for coaching.
In addition to working on our personal skills, we watched the candidates to get ideas for our own styles of instruction. Whether it's a warm-up exercise or the subtly different ways we try get concepts across, getting exposure to other teachers is priceless- one of the best ways we can develop our own teaching skills.
And then there's the "just soaking it in" factor. After our first day, we all sat around a long table in the AMC cabin, trading stories, having a laugh or two. I mostly listened, impressed by the camaraderie among paddlers who have been at this for awhile, who, among a revolving cast of characters, show up at these paddling events, whether they're on the East Coast, West Coast, Scotland or Wales, and share their love of the sport. It's not something they're doing to get rich, and it isn't an easy lifestyle, but paddling has obviously pointed the way.
So I soaked it in. I had a good two days. Nate had a good two days. Pleasantly exhausted, we had a lot to talk about during the drive home. We felt fortunate and grateful for a lot of things: that we've had good teachers along the way, that we've found peers to share it with- including our wives who paddle their own boats and make it possible for us to go off on some of these trips.