Competence = Confidence

Every fall, my dad and I head north for our annual fly-fishing trip. It’s a chance to reconnect with each other and with nature, and to feed my soul with sustenance for the long Michigan winter.

I have this trip circled for 364 days, and yet every year, a few days before I leave, I’m beset with uncharacteristic anxiety.

I enjoy fly fishing; I’m just not very good at it. In other words, I’m incompetent.

As soon as I enter the fly shop, I’m beset by doubt and insecurity. Everyone around me appears to know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about. Experienced anglers respond to my questions with foreign vocabulary like “soft hackle,” “hoppers and droppers,” and “catch it on the rise.” I nod my head in faux understanding, hoping they don’t call my bluff.

I look like a fisherman. I’ve got the gear, the trucker hat, the plaid fishing shirt, and the scraggly beard. I even have some of the dry wit typical of anglers. But I don’t catch fish. It’s kind of the point of fishing, but it’s also the part that has escaped me.

So as I was riding with our guide to the drop-in spot (fishing jargon for where we put the boat in water) on this beautiful, crisp fall day, it dawned on me that this is exactly how our students feel in many situations, academic and otherwise. They look the part too – they’ll nod their heads and take notes, say the right things and even ask the right questions, but many are like me in the fly shop: utterly lost and feeling badly about it.

This year, I’m going to do a better job of not assuming students have the knowledge and skills to be successful, whether it be on an AP History test or in a difficult conversation with peers. I’m not going to assume, just because they’re Honors students, they’ve got it all figured out. They still need explicit instruction with student-friendly vocabulary. They may need to be taught how to use the Calendar function on their phone. Above all though, they need us to coach them with patience, not frustration.

I’m proud to share that thanks to Matt, our incredibly knowledgeable and patient fishing guide, who provided explicit instruction and student-friendly vocabulary, I was able to land five fish. Next year, I’ll walk into the fly shop next year a little more confident.

Top: Matt holding one of my trout (he was afraid I’d kill it)