Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

I received a new ‘tablet’ as a gift and being that I don’t have a cell or smart phone and am a bit computer illiterate, I thought to take a class for beginners. I found such a class and anticipated moving right into next intermediate class like most students. But I was requested by my instructor to take ‘beginners’ again.

Yes indeed, I failed the first class…the ‘Basic Comprehension’ class. It doesn’t speak well concerning my computer skills, does it? After the instructor quickly went through a number of touch screen prompts that I had no idea where even on the thing, he looked at my expression of bewilderment and said, ‘You don’t have a cell phone do you?’

 I don’t mind not having a grasp of, what is apparently to some the obvious, seeing as how I had trouble opening the tablet, but it did bring to mind teaching and that old adage, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

We know that to be a silly notion since many individuals have taught older animals to do new things with great success. There is a difference in methodology however, when instructing the young who are genetically wired to be sponges, soaking up every new experience and storing it away, and teaching a new skill to an older animal who is comfortable with life and needs a more basic starting point . No matter who is teacher and who student (and at some point we are both), there are two separate agendas that need to find common ground if the lesson is to be successful.

Young animals are built for learning and it usually goes fairly smooth if the teacher is competent. The student and teacher are more in sync with each other. What youth lacks in experience they make up for in experimentation because they are prone to not consider failure and the ramifications of failure.

An older animal requires an adjustment in lesson plans. (Apparently I fall into this ‘older animal’ category and might I say I am completely surprised.) They know what failure is and they don’t care for it. They are also more comfortable with their place in life; they are already ‘successful’ on many different levels so require a reason to add the ‘new’ to their repertoire. In other words, how is the lesson going to add to their life?

Consider the difference between socializing a puppy and socializing a three year old dog that has never been out of the kennel or breaking a colt to a saddle and breaking a four year old mare that has been out to pasture for her life.  Things need to be presented at a quieter pace for the experienced. Though they do not have the knowledge of the lesson being taught, they have other experiences which may either assist them or counter act their ability and desire to learn. It is the teacher’s responsibility to find these keys and unlock them for the student or both become frustrated.

If instructor frustration appears (and we have all been there) it usually occurs when the desires of the student are in conflict with the desires of the instructor. That is a good time, if we are the teacher, to take a step back and question why we are frustrated. Are we considering our own motives? Are we out to have fun with our companion or are we out to further our own egos? In other terms, do we want to keep our older companion’s mind engaged or is it more about having our companion win or be successful so we look better? One has nothing to do with the other. One is about them. One is about us.

Motive is a good thing to consider if you find yourself frustrated when teaching, or as some define it, training.

Now I have to leave you so that I might find where I can take that basic comprehension course, again. With a different teacher. Who is more in sync with the experienced…


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