“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice” –Brian Herbert
I love to learn. I’ve loved it ever since I headed to Kindergarten with my green pencil box and stuffed bear. Call me strange or weird if you want to, but I love the feeling of acquiring new and exciting knowledge on something. I love trying to stretch my brain and diving headfirst into something new. I also love to share my learning with others. This is, of course, why I chose the profession that I did. Looking back on my learning life, I realize that I have had so many different points in life that have led me to where I am today. From past teachers to life changing experiences, I have many different events that built me as a learner. Picking just five stories was hard, but here are five experiences that helped me develop as a learner in both academics and life.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m a reader. I have always loved picking up a good book and getting lost in it for hours. This love and passion started back when I was in first grade. I’ll never forget the pure joy I had when my mom suggested that I read a Junie B. Jones book titled Junie B. Jones Is a Party Animal. Chapter books were new and uncharted territory for me; I was afraid that I would fail and not be able to read it. However, I did read it and felt so accomplished. I went to school once I had finished and told my teacher that I wanted to take the AR test for my book. Then, something happened that I will never forget: my teacher didn’t believe that I had actually read the book because it was more advanced than my grade level. I couldn’t believe it- my hard work was going to go unnoticed. I finally convinced her to let me take the AR test under one condition: if I didn’t do well on it, I wouldn’t be able to check out any more chapter books. After taking and passing the test (with flying colors, I might add), my teacher apologized and encouraged me to read more Junie B. Jones books. This memory is etched into my brain because it was the first time a teacher told me I wasn’t able to do something. Looking back, I realize how young I was and understand where she was coming from. I was a 5-year-old reading chapter books in an incredibly short amount of time. However, I was truly reading them and finding them challenging. Since then, I have always lived by the mantra that anything is possible; I’m not going to let anyone tell me that I can’t do something because it’s too advanced for me. I also read and enjoyed every Junie B. Jones book in publication, so that’s a win for me as well. 😉
Perfection is something that I have always chased after, especially in school. Whether it was naming and spelling all 50 states and capitals correctly in fourth grade or memorizing the different organs in Advanced Biology, I have always felt the drive to get the top grade in every class that I’ve been in. Although having this drive isn’t a bad thing, I sometimes tend to take it too far. I distinctly remember the first time I didn’t get a 100% on a vocab quiz. I was in 6th grade, and I freaked out. What did this mean? Was I not good enough? What if my grade dropped? Looking back, I realize how silly and insignificant it was to freak out about one grade. That day, my teacher told me something that has really stuck with me throughout all of these years. She said, “Regan, sometimes school isn’t all about the grades. It’s about the lessons you learn-both in homework and life.” (She also said that I was going to develop ulcers if I kept worrying. That seems to be less motivational though.) As I left school that day, I remember thinking what in the world is she talking about? School is about the grades! However, now I completely understand what she was trying to relay on to me. Sometimes, school is about the learning process and not the outcome. It’s about the effort that you put into it and the times that you try your hardest. Will I always get 100% on every single assignment? Absolutely not (trust me… it doesn’t happen). But, I will always learn something from what I do and the time I spend in school, even if it doesn’t result in perfection.
As I got older, I found myself running into new and different challenges that affected me. From friend troubles to self-confidence issues that every junior high girl faces, I constantly felt tugged in different ways. The one thing that truly helped me get through those rough times was reading YA literature. Whenever I had a particularly rough or stressful day, I would go home and read for hours on end. I would read to escape and live for a few hours in someone else’s shoes. Books were windows into the life of someone else, and I was able to travel to places that I might never actually get a chance to go to. I got to experience life in Hogwarts and rainy Forks, WA (mandatory Twilight reference). Vicarious living truly helped me to survive those awkward years of growing up that we all have to face. I read books that served as windows as well as mirrors, looking further into myself and learning more. I learned how to show compassion and love to others as well as myself. I learned that the grass is not always greener on the other side; sometimes the situation we are in is not as bad as it could be. Books taught me so much and truly helped me to become who I am today. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s completely true. I still retreat to literature when I need to. I owe a lot to the books that I have read and the characters’ eyes that I have seen through. I became a more understanding person through literature, and for that, I am forever grateful.
I attended an incredibly small high school, and when I say small, I mean small. We had less than 200 kids total K-12. I graduated in a class of 15 kids, including me. I am forever grateful for the schooling opportunities that I had in Curtis, NE. I knew all of my teachers and they all knew me by name. My classmates and I were able to develop close, personal relationships with our coaches and teachers that have been special for us. One of those relationships that I built was with my Ag Ed instructor, Mrs. Mortensen. Mrs. Mortensen is one of those teachers that is passionate about not only the subject matter but also about her students. I walked into her classroom every day excited to learn and talk with her. She was more than just my FFA advisor and teacher; she became a mentor for me. I knew that I could go to her with any and every issue that I ever ran across. From friends to FFA and from Marvel debates (Captain America all the way) to public speaking practices, Mrs. Mortensen was always willing to go the extra mile. In fact, I still make a point to go sit in her classroom any time I head home and find myself texting her for advice from time to time. I learned from her how to encourage students and be the mentor that they need. She was always encouraging, funny, and caring. I learned more than just the subject matter from her. Mrs. Mortensen truly left a lasting impact on my life of learning. I’m thankful to be able to call her a teacher and, now, a friend.
When I was in school, I kept busy. From FCCLA and quiz bowl to sports and National Honor Society, I was always on the go. I kept busy, and as a senior I was at my busiest point. However, all of this came to a halt one December night when I found myself sitting on a gym floor holding a basketball, unable to walk without crashing to the ground. My genetics had finally caught up with me, and I had torn both my ACL and MCL just like my sibling, parents, and numerous family members before me. I knew right when it happened that I was done with sports for good. As my doctor confirmed the news a few days later, I found myself panicking. What would I do now? My busy life would have to be put on hold for surgery and rehab that would take the majority of the second semester of my senior year. I rang in the New Year hooked up to an ice machine post surgery and then spent hours upon hours driving to North Platte (a town about 45 minutes away from my hometown) for physical therapy once school started back up. Recovery was awful, but I learned some great life lessons from it. I learned the importance of perseverance and a good attitude in all situations. I became aware of just how hard a person has to work in order to achieve their goals. Sometimes, it’s the lessons that life teaches us that are the most important. I had to choose to be positive, and sometimes I didn’t make that choice. Those days were the worst ones, and they were the ones that I learned the most from. Who knew that a torn ligament or two could be such a great thing in the end? 😉
Well, there it is. My twisted and strange path that led me to where I am in my learning life today. I’ve learned life lessons from big events, such as a knee injury, to small events, such as a simple sentence spoken by a teacher. I try to learn something new and exciting whenever I can. Sometimes, I learn a lesson just by walking out the front door in the winter running late (lesson: always start your car early), and other times the lesson develops over time. I think that the most important thing is that we always try to continue learning, both academically and personally. This is how we, as future educators, will be able to teach our students.