Yes, I’ve gone down another rabbit hole! At least temporarily.
I love learning new things. And I love reflecting on the learning process; in particular, what it takes to develop new skills and apply those skills consistently. I took an archery “lesson” (more on why I put the word in quotes in a moment) this past week as an exploratory step to see what it takes to bow hunt. I did my first bird hunts this year using the shotgun to harvest the quarry. It was fun, challenging and I rather like the idea of harvesting my own game. Oh, the birds are delicious, too.
The bird hunting led me to a variety of books and websites to learn how to prepare game birds for the table. My reading inevitably took me into the subject of bigger game; namely venison. The recipes looked good and I started wondering what it would take to harvest a deer next season. More reading followed, and I realized that big game hunting would be foolish, and unethical, if I didn’t actually like the taste of venison. So last month I found a butcher that stocks venison and I picked up a leg cut, followed an online recipe and made my first venison steaks. They were good….not quite delicious because the marinade was a bit heavy-handed in the soy department. But I liked the meat. It was lean, easy enough to work with, did not have a nasty taste ( I had some bad venison as a youngster) and, most importantly, the other members of the family ate it. There’s no point hunting if your family won’t eat the fruits of your labor.
I read more about big game hunting. I watched lots of videos of hunts, wondering if I could pull the trigger on a bigger animal, would I have the patience to sit quietly, break down the animal etcetera. The answers kept coming up “yes.” The next item to tackle was how to hunt: firearm or bow? I have no particular need for another firearm, and learning how to use a compound bow seemed like a good personal challenge for the year, so I decided to take an archery lesson. My goals were pretty simple: first see if I could even do it and, second, see if I was any good at it. A little Googling revealed three options for lessons in my general area and I chose the one closest to home. I paid a casual visit to the shop/range a couple of weeks ago, and booked the lesson for the middle of the week when it would be quietest and I could get some 1:1 coaching.
Learning a new skill can be fun and challenging at the same time. With most skills, learning the proper form and technique in the beginning will lay the foundation for success later on. That was my experience with sporting clays and bird hunting, and I had every reason to believe it would be the same for archery. I had watched enough YouTube videos (not always the best source of proper technique) to realize that proper posture and form are very important and, as such, I was eager to learn the proper set-up.
Which brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. What constitutes a proper lesson? What are your expectations when you lay down your money to learn something new from someone more experienced than you? Are the expectations different if the instructor is older than you and, by insinuation more experienced, versus one-third your age?
Yes, that last question smacks of ageism. But I think I’m onto something.
My 90 minute archery lesson commenced with the shop manager telling the young instructor (my guess is he was a high school student), that he had to do the lesson before doing some other activity they were discussing. The lesson started with a 7 minute safety speech reminding me not to run with the arrows in my hand and not to skip on the lanes. Yes, “No Skipping.” Then we went to the lane where he spent about 15 minutes showing me how to stand and where to position my shoulder and elbow. I took a few shots and there was a comment that the sight needed adjustment.
Whereupon another customer came up and asked the instructor to help him with a trigger release. I never saw the instructor again. He walked away to help the other customer and within a few minutes they were both at the other end of the range shooting with each other. I completed the balance of the 90 minutes shooting independently.
Is this a “lesson?”
As a professional educator, I don’t think so. Almost no effort was put into coaching me beyond telling me not to skip down the lane and how to position my elbow. There’s a world of technique (how to properly sight, how to release, follow-through etc) that we did not touch upon. I didn’t have unreasonable hopes of leaving an expert marksman, but I expected more from something billed as a lesson. I expected the instructor to lay a proper foundation and to build enthusiasm in me so I would want to move forward and even spend more money at the place. None of that was done.
I suspect age played a role here. An 18 year old simply doesn’t have the life experience to understand what customers expect and what is required from a safety standpoint when they pay for a “lesson.” Particularly if that lesson involves a lethal instrumentality such as a bow or gun. An 18 year old also has a world of other things going on: school work, girl friends, social interactions with others at the range that inhibit the ability to remain customer focused. Now I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but in my life experience I’ve not had good experiences with youngsters giving “lessons.”
You might be wondering, “Why didn’t you say something to the manager?” Good question. I didn’t have to. She was hanging out with the instructor, fully aware that I was shooting on my own. On a positive note, the 1 hour plus that I had to myself allowed me to experiment and figure some things out on my own, but that’s not the point of a lesson. The point of a lesson is instruction, practice and feedback. I got a tiny bit of instruction and a lot of self-directed practice. For all I know, I practiced incorrectly for over an hour. I’ll never know. Until I take another lesson….somewhere else.
As you can see in the picture, I don’t totally suck. But some of that is beginner’s luck, I’m sure. And I think I was only ten yards away from the target, maybe closer. I’ll almost certainly take another lesson somewhere else, but the experience made me realize that there’s no agreed-upon definition of “lesson” in the world. My definition (instruction-practice-feedback) was definitely not the archery shop’s mental model. Going forward, I know to ask specifically:
What constitutes a lesson?
What do I get in exchange for my money?
Will this be 1:1 and will the instructor stay with me or wander off to check customers out at the cash register?
What should I expect to accomplish by the end of the lesson?
What should I do after the lesson to continue growing in the activity?
These things, by the way, are commonly part of a professional lesson plan in the academic environment. Consumers of “lessons” would be well-served to ask these questions before laying down their money. I know I will from now on.