Reflections From The Cockpit February 2009
Who Is The Teacher?

It is January and time again for setting up my teaching schedule for the year.  As I enter clinics and lectures to my schedule, I am reminded of how much I love to teach. I was very lucky in my life with respect to my career, because I discovered my passion at age nineteen when I was a specialty counselor at a summer camp. When I returned I changed my major from engineering to education. My summer experience showed me I was put on this earth to teach. Even today I feel excited when I get ready to teach a class, do a presentation to a club or lecture to a large group at a symposium.

There are so many things I love about teaching. I love seeing that little light bulb go on above a student’s head when they understand what I am trying to relay to them. I love the challenge of trying to speak the individual learning language that each student has as his or her own unique language. When I think about this process of trying to match a teaching style to the student’s learning style I wonder who is really the teacher? I find that I am always learning every time I teach. Therefore, I started reflecting on, “Who is the teacher?” as I plan my upcoming season of teaching.

I have a great story to illustrate, “Who is teaching who?” In September of 1980 my position at U.C Santa Barbara changed. I was a lecturer there for four years and now I would be running the outdoor program combined with my teaching duties. My new office was in a trailer (about one-third of a mobile trailer) that you see on construction sites. One day while having lunch at my desk I heard a flutter on the steps outside my office door. Since Santa Barbara is usually sunny and warm my office door was almost always kept open. The noise I heard was a blue jay. I looked at the bird that was looking at me. Feeling like John Muir in my new job, I thought it would be nice to see if I could entice this jay to eventually land on my desk and eat some seeds or nuts. I figured I would have this job for a number of years and I would have plenty of time to teach this bird to trust me enough to come into my office.

I started my bird-training program that very day when I took a small piece of the wheat bread from my sandwich and tossed it out to the bird. I was happy to see he took the morsel and flew away. A couple of minutes later he was back and screeching at me.  I tossed a second piece out on the steps and he gladly took that offering and again flew away. As I continued eating I heard the call of the wild again.  I thought I would be daring and I tossed the third piece just inside the door to see if he would come in. The crumb lay on the worn carpet for about thirty seconds until the jay jumped off the railing and onto the floor just inside my office. I was elated. I perceived I’d got him to trust me enough to come into the front of my office in just these few minutes.  I felt I was one with nature. I didn’t want to rush the bird since I figured I had plenty of time to develop a relationship with him.

I decided that was enough training for one day, so I went back to eating the remaining half of my sandwich while reading a topo map for the trip I was planning.  While reading the map I would take an occasional bite from my sandwich, which was in my left hand. Between bites the sandwich was still in my hand with my elbow resting on the desk.  This left my sandwich near head level as I looked down on the map. All of a sudden my concentration was broken by a loud flutter. It was the jay. He landed on my hand and started eating my sandwich. I turned and looked at him while he shared my lunch with me.  My eyes were six to seven inches from this not so shy bird. He didn’t fly off or even flinch as I asked him, “Do you like today’s menu?”

After he flew off, I mused at my thinking I was going to teach this bird to come onto my desk one day and eat some birdseed. I remember thinking at the time, “Who was teaching who?” The answer was clear. The blue jay was teaching me. Over the years I changed offices a few times, but I was out in the trailers for over ten years. During that time, the jay would land on top of the open door and look in to see if I was there. If I was, he would call to me and I would open my desk drawer and take out a peanut still in the shell (unsalted of course). He would then fly in and land on my hand.  I would hold the peanut tightly and he would try to get it. When he couldn’t pry it from my fingers he would begin to peck on my hand until I would release the peanut. Yes, he taught me to do all of this. As I look back on those years with my precocious blue jay, I smile and thank him for his companionship and the lessons he taught me.

 I think of the jay often when I am teaching a class and a student is having a difficult time grasping the concept I am presenting. My brain asks, “What is this student trying to teach me?” “What language do I need to learn?” Eventually we find our common language and the lessons get learned for the both of us.

I find that process very exciting. I learn so much when I teach others. Not only how to communicate in different ways, but to see skills through the eyes of others. I also learn different variations, because people have different ways of doing things. The USK motto is, “Do it in a way that works best for you.” As a result, I watch to see how students perform the skills I demonstrate to them.

I also learn by the way a student asks a question. Since most of my lectures are audience participation I learn from the personal experiences of the people who share during the presentation.  The harder the question, I find my creativity being challenged to find an answer that will be understood by the asker, as well as the rest of the audience.

So as I look ahead to this upcoming teaching season I am looking forward to the lessons I will learn from my students. I get a chance to see things in a new light. My creativity genes will be working overtime and I will love the process. Thank you in advance to my students who will be teaching me. In retrospect, I am putting together my learning calendar.


Wayne Horodowich


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