The Best Way to Learn is by Teaching

As the Grandest of Grand Poobahs of The Lodge of the Dense and Mentally Questionable– once I learn even a rudimentary skill, the best way for me to make it stick in my sugarless-gummy-bear of a brain is to find some poor soul to whom I can teach that skill.

So, having had basic sailing skills beat into my brain by repetition, and several ego-bruising incidents, I got it in my thick head that I want to teach others to sail.

My Personal Questionable Educational History

All the way through high school I believed I was Ferris Bueller (long before Ferris existed).

In hindsight I was more of a Fogel (McLovin) from Superbad.

Either way, I first discovered my love of teaching when I first discovered a love of learning. Unfortunately for my grades, I only discovered a love of learning after college, when I decided I wanted to go to law school. So, I had a late start and a ludicrously lofty goal, but as anybody who knows me will attest, when I put my mind to a goal I am awfully stubborn.

Luckily, I found a program that accepted students with high LSAT scores (I’ve always been a good standardized test taker) and low grades (or vice versa) for summer law classes. Those who did well might then be admitted to the fall class if we did well. I don’t think such programs exist anymore, which is a darned shame. There are plenty of smart folks who didn’t get into an educational groove until later in life.

That summer law program was life-changing. Not only did I find law fascinating, and the natural argumentative nature of the discussions energizing, but I also learned an important lesson about myself. I process information best through discussion, which was not the model in any school I attended prior to law school. In fact, it was just the opposite, and my efforts to engage and discuss teachers and peers in public school and college resulted in me being viewed as a disciplinary problem, which turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As summer progressed, I was doing better in school than ever before, but still not great. Then I began helping folks who were having difficulty with various concepts and found that I progressed even further and faster than before. I went from pretty good at the law classes to top of my little summer class and admitted to real law school! I continued to help teach concepts to my classmates (and they taught me quite a bit too) and managed to get sufficiently high grades to transfer for my last two years to a top-notch law school (no disrespect intended to the law school that initially took a chance on me).

After law school, I continued the teaching/learning/herding cats process by staying involved with the law school. I taught trial techniques, moderated classes on professionalism, and coached moot court. Even after our move to California, I found an outlet at my kids’ high school, where I coach the mock trial team.

Learning To Teach Sailing

When I decided that I wanted to learn to teach sailing, I went back to the same organization through which I learned, the American Sailing Association. Those classes were relatively low stress, well organized, and were easily scheduled to fit around my day job (a significant concern). Moving to the instructor’s side proved a bit more difficult.

As an initial matter, the school hosting instructor qualification courses must first approve you to take the instructor qualification course. They review each applicants’ sailing resume to confirm the adequate sailing experience and inquire about teaching experience. The class itself serves to further confirm the candidates’ suitability in several ways.

The Instructor qualification course is designed to test your knowledge, sailing proficiency, public speaking ability, and how well you handle stress. I won’t go into detail since the little bit of mystery surrounding the course (and the stress it causes) is actually an important part of the class itself. But, I will say that if you have the right level of experience sailing and review the books, the book knowledge is not the most challenging portion.

I count myself lucky to be so close to Modern Sailing. In addition to really enjoying their classes, it is also one of the few instructor qualification courses available for the ASA. The instructor evaluators, Bill and Stan, are both excellent and forgot more about sailing than I’ll ever likely know.

My Plans

I’m still a lawyer and work weekdays at my chosen profession. But, now that the kids are older and COVID blends weekdays and weekends, I am starting to teach sailing on weekends. So far, I’ve really enjoyed teaching. Teaching brings a new level of challenge to sailing as I try to keep everybody safe, interested, and advancing toward on-the-water independence.

[Post script- I didn’t realize I needed a “bio” for the instructor page and had never noticed that the school even had bios for instructors. As a result, I gave my bio somewhat less attention and respect than it deserved. Not surprisingly, my first draft was quickly rejected. Nevertheless, since I find it amusing, here it is for your reading pleasure:

Scott Bonder is a drunkard and a lout- both traits common to sailors of old.  He sails, but you are really better off with a boat since his keel doesn’t go that deep and despite appearances is not very buoyant.  He lives in Tiburon, sees sailboats all the time, and has some passing familiarity with seamanship from his time being beaten up by sailors while in the Marines.  

As a teacher, he loves to hear himself speak as long as he isn’t paying too much attention.  He has a sharp tongue, dull mind, extremely high self-esteem, a rather low level of physical conditioning, and even lower morals.  You’ll have a good time.  ]

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