Loving the Learner Piece by Piece

“A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it’s built for.”  – Albert Einstein

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Photo CC-By Dawn Richardson Downing

At the end of this summer I will have been on this Earth living life for two decades. Yes you read that right, two decades. That’s hard to believe for me. I hope that within those two decades I have learned something about this world and the way we live as humans, but more importantly I hope I have learned something about myself and have grown as an individual. I believe I may have just learned something and here it is all written out.

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Learning to love myself as a learner at 20 years old.

As I look back I think not about how far I still may have to go in my learning process, but rather, how far I have come. There have most definitely been moments in my life that have set me back a step (or twenty), but it’s all about how I handled the setbacks. The setbacks we encounter offer us an opportunity to love ourselves first, and love our ability to learn how to overcome. Once we overcome we will eventually find the right pieces to the puzzle to figure out where we belong and what our picture looks like.

There’s no doubt in my mind that each of us is destined for some sort of greatness. Whether it be teaching in a classroom full of eager minds, curing the sick, or maybe building homes for people to take shelter in. We all have something that we are an expert at, though we may not realize this idea right now. I believe full-heartedly in the process of learning. However, learning comes with taking risks, branching out, and that dreaded word – failure. The quote by Albert Einstein (above) helps us visualize that though we like the safe zone, we are built for something and in order to know what that something is we must find it in ourselves to set sail and discover something new. Eventually, this will lead us to discover the missing pieces to the puzzle we are creating.

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Always young at heart, right?

When I was a little girl, starting around the age of three, assembling puzzles became my favorite pastime. I remember putting the same puzzles together that were in my great-grandmother’s play room. When I visited the first thing I would do was walk to the bedroom, pull out the cardboard box of unorganized pieces, blow the dust off, and sit at the kitchen table. I got to be so good at the the puzzles that I would have my family members time me so I could race against myself to improve. Bettering myself became a second nature. To this day I am still seeking ways in which I can improve my life actions. I already fell in love with the idea of putting the pieces together when I was a little girl. And i’m not simply talking about the pieces of the disney princess puzzles, but the pieces of life – my family’s support and cheering when I finished, the idea of happiness, success, ambition to finish, finding a new fit, and the will to take on new tasks without hesitation. However, success wouldn’t taste so sweet if we, as people, have never come face-to-face with a challenge. After only tasting success as a toddler I was soon to face something that would set me back.

This brings me to my very first setback. Disappointment in myself. I was in the
fourth grade and all I wanted to do was learn. My mind was eager and my actions were capable of keeping up with my mind (most of the time). Straight A’s were all I knew, until one day when my mom opened up my report card to find a B. Yes, a B. My first heartbreak happened to be the subject of math (i’m still not that great at it and i’m okay with that). I remember crying to my mom because I was so disappointed in myself that I got a B… in math of all things!  I remember my mom saying, “Honey, a B is terrific!” and she hugged me and told me how proud she was of me. But B’s were not terrific in my mind. However, as I look back I see how I learned a lot from this moment, because not only did I get my first taste of failure to achieve perfection, but it also helped me to learn how to be better and do better. To add, I know what I learned from this life lesson and that is that I cannot possibly be perfect at every subject in life and I have now (after 2 decades) come to peace with it. Most importantly though, I learned that even though I fail, I will always have those who love me.

So if math was not what I was built for, then what was I built for? What pieces was I missing to my puzzle? As a kid I wanted greatness, but did not know where to find it. I mean, I couldn’t possibly put puzzles together for the rest of my life could I? In middle school, I had one common thing with each of the three years, which happened to be that I loved my English teacher. They inspired me to be creative and find what I like and dislike. As I looked at it, taking a different approach to putting a puzzle together, which really is what I had already been doing. Because of the teachers I had I was able to exercise my creative side to find what I did like and boy was that exciting news! I found out that I most certainly did not like math. I felt like the ugly duckling sitting in that classroom, so lost and out of place. Though I felt to be at home in the English classroom because creativity and writing came easily to me. So one could say that at that moment I found one missing puzzle piece and snapped it into place. Thank goodness for loving, caring, mentors like teachers to set us on the right direction to find the rest of our missing pieces right?

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My high school English teacher (left) and I (right).

High school was an adventure I didn’t quite know how to take on as I was leaving middle school. I was expecting a new challenge and was ready to take it on head-to-head. That I did. When my final year of high school came around I had no idea what my next move would be to fill the next empty space. However, soon it became clear to me that education would best suit my lifestyle. So with that being said, I interned with my high school English teacher (who is amazing may I add) and she helped me figure out if this was truly something I wanted to do for the rest of my life (or until I retire). Thanks to her advice and the many hours of mentoring I took on my next challenge with confidence as I headed off to college pursuing a degree in education. Throughout this learning experience I challenged myself to put myself in an internship and try something new. That was the only way I could know for sure. I challenge other people to do the same in situations like this. The most important thing I learned; however, was that it is always oaky to humble yourself, forget about the pride and ask for help and guidance. Without my teacher’s help and encouragement I might have been still searching for my piece.

Towards the end of my senior year, one of my childhood best friends passed away unexpectedly in a car accident. At this point I knew that life is an unexpected adventure and it’s important to value the pieces we are able to put together and to love ourselves as we learn along the the journey. The summer before college I spent a lot of time on myself and my goals. This has been the greatest and most enjoyable learning experience of all. After loving myself and knowing who I am, my puzzle has become much easier to put together. Through this learning experience I’ve also learned that as educators, we must love all learners because we all may be building a puzzle together piece by piece at different rates, but in the end no two puzzles are the same anyways (and that’s okay!!). We all have greatness. We are all extraordinary. We are all able to put together the puzzle of our dreams, but we have to learn to love the learner and love learning. And instead of sitting stagnant we must search for the missing pieces to the puzzle and assemble it piece by piece. A good puzzle isn’t created over night (even with my record time), it’s created over days and new experiences.

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Photo CC-By Raquel Lonas

The life of learning is like a puzzle, we get to choose the difficulty level of it based on the amount of pieces we desire, we choose the pace and way we put the pieces together, and we choose the help and advice we need to find the missing pieces. Sure we make wrong moves, but eventually find the ones that fit. Loving ourselves is like the puzzle. We all need certain pieces to survive like food, water, and shelter, but we also desire things like happiness, love, and many more that differ depending on the creator of the puzzle. The most important thing is loving the learner (yourself) as he or she goes to find the pieces that are meant to fill the empty gaps. And as we become older, we become wiser and our pieces become minimized and it becomes easier to fill the gaps. Set sail and find the missing pieces by learning to love the learner.

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2 thoughts on “Loving the Learner Piece by Piece

  1. I love your use of the puzzle metaphor throughout this piece. It’s a powerful way to think about learning and living. Such important words about how we all have something we can be great at. I often think that school does a poor job at helping kids discover what that might be. Creativity and service seem so undervalued in school, and those are areas where we can all excel.

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    1. I hope that as a future teacher I have the ability to allow students to play with creativity to find what they like and dislike. No two children will learn or love the same thing. As young children we are told that we can be whatever we like; however, as we get older it seems as though we hear negative comments or “you can’t do that” towards what we choose to do. The word “can’t” will not be used in my classroom or any other negative term. I only want positive attitudes to create for a positive life and future beyond and outside of the classroom walls!

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