Waypoints: Learning to Teach
by Geremy Olson
There are a lot of things about fish we may think we have figured out. It isn’t until we start to teach what we know, that we really start to learn.
I grew up on a small river in North Dakota and this is where my love of fishing began. Life was good for me then. I could dig worms in the garden and it didn’t take long for me to find out you shouldn’t dig where the new plants are. Who knew? Then I grabbed a rod my dad found for me. It was outfitted with a good old-fashioned red-and-white bobber, split shot and a hook. I hiked up and over the big dike and sat on the rocks catching bullheads until mom yelled for me to return home.
Over the next couple of years, some of the lessons I learned were that I couldn’t follow our river to reach the ocean. I couldn’t breathe under water like fish do. And to catch fish you have to fish in water that has fish. All of these were hard lessons for a kid to learn but I learned them with a dad who was gracious and loving.
As my love for fishing grew so did I. Some would say it consumed my life, but the reality was it became my escape. As a dyslexic kid who never really fit in anywhere else, the outdoors was the place I could feel significant. My dad didn’t hunt or fish, he camped and cooked, so I learned how to camp and cook twelve months a year in “tropical North Dakota.” While we were out camping I was fishing every chance I could get.
I had to work hard to learn how to fish on my own. “The Hunting & Fishing Library” books by Dick Sternberg and Bill Lindner were my text books. In spite of my dyslexia, I spent hours studying those books.
I knew a lot about fishing but I still couldn’t catch any fish; not like in the books anyway. That’s about the time when Jay asked if I wanted to go fishing.
Jay was a good friend of the family and was a great outdoorsman. I couldn’t wait for each summer to come so I could get out in the boat with Jay and go fishing. Now, looking back on those days, I better understanding all the lessons he taught me during our time on the water.
One lesson I learned in Jay’s boat is it doesn’t matter how much we know if we can’t do it. I knew a lot about fishing but I didn’t know how to fish.
Jay was the first guy in my life who took the time to teach me how to fish and then later hunt. What I appreciate the most is he never answered “because”. When I asked questions, he took the time to carefully explain or actually show me the answer. We would stop fishing sometimes just to work on a knot or learn a new rig. I remember wishing my teachers in school would work with me the way Jay did. When I was in high school Jay and I started taking other kids out on the water to fish. I didn’t realize it at the time but now I know Jay took a step back allowing me to be the teacher, although he was always there when I had a question.
I thought I was pretty good at fishing until I started teaching new anglers. I will never forget the feeling I had when someone asked a question and I didn’t know the answer. It was really humbling to realize with all that I had learned, I still didn’t know much. But that realization inspired me to learn more. Years later Jay told me how much he learned about fishing when he was teaching me.
Now I have the privilege of teaching my own kids and others how to fish. In the years in between I have learned perhaps the most important lesson of all. I am no longer afraid of not knowing an answer. Now I look forward to not knowing the answers. When I don’t know, I get the opportunity to look for and find the answers together with whoever I am teaching.
Too many times we put the weight of the world on our shoulders as parents, teachers and coaches. We think we need to know it all. The truth is we are responsible to teach what we know and learn what we don’t. When we do, it takes the pressure off, replacing it with joy. I love hanging out on the water with my kids and learning together, but even more, I love watching them teach others because I know what they are learning too.
(Geremy Olson is the North Dakota Fellowship of Christian Athletes Outdoors Coordinator, North Dakota AIM Tournament Director, outdoorsman, video producer, wildfire consultant and public speaker. He is also the proud father of the owners of Missouri Secrets Tackle.)