Jay S. Rozema
Associate Professor of Theatre
Missouri Valley College
Not one student had been following your train of thought for weeks nor able to accomplish what you set out as learning objectives. There’s been no sign of hope. It didn’t matter what you did, you got no response. You felt like banging your head against the wall.
Have you ever found yourself in this scenario? I have. That was my Theatre Stagecraft class a couple of years ago. Week after week I was facing a classroom full of blank faces, unable to accomplish tasks, and with some students, poor attendance. I really thought my teaching abilities were gone. My confidence was at its lowest and my attitude was poor. I found solace out on the lake tossing my bait into the water looking for Largemouth Bass. I know fishing. I know how to catch fish in my local lake, even when others are not. Fishing can help build my self-confidence when other aspects of my life are bringing me down. Fishing is my hobby, but it became helpful to my profession.
As the students walked away frustrated after each class meeting, I found myself saying, “Remember, It’s all about the attitude.” Even though it was difficult, I was simply trying to maintain a positive perspective on the situation. I would say this to myself because Kevin VanDam (7 time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and 4 time Bassmaster Classic Champion) closes every blog post he writes with this phrase. KVD has learned that a positive attitude will keep your mind focused on where it needs to be and not sending you deeper into the hole you find yourself.
I was once again reminding myself about my attitude on a particularly cool autumn day when I was fishing and found myself struggling to get a bite. I wasn’t catching any fish that day and began working through the steps an angler takes in order to “find the fish.” It was that day on the water when I began telling myself that both fishing and teaching are unsolvable puzzles. I thought of Mark Zona (Host of Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show and Bassmasters Television) when he said on the Podcast The Bass Edge, “[Bass Fishing] is a giant unsolvable puzzle that nobody can ever master. That’s what keeps us all going and doing this, because it is an unsolvable puzzle,” (Martin & Dove, 2014). The question then became; how do I work toward solving this puzzle called Stagecraft? How do I use the mindset of fishing to improve my classroom experiences?
Chris Lane (2015), 2012 Bassmaster Classic Champion, wrote, “In fishing you have to make adjustments based on the conditions. Making changes doesn’t guarantee success but sticking with the same plan when it isn’t producing guarantees a tough day.” My class was not responding to what I was presenting to them, changes were required. I found myself using what had worked in the past; I was teaching my memories. Looking back, I believe I should have done a better job of teaching – like fishing – in the moment.
In an article by Brent Conway (2011), Mike laconelli (2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion and 2006 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year) is quoted as saying, “Look at the guys who catch them all the time, like Skeet Reese and Kevin VanDam,” he says. “You almost think that they must have a secret bait or technique. Really, it’s because they’re some of the best at fishing in the moment.” Fishing in the moment, as laconelli explains, is often contrary to basic instinct. “It’s one of the toughest things in all of fishing to overcome because we’re human, and human nature is to rely on history.” laconelli also said, “You have to ask a lot of questions when you catch a fish; that’s the bottom line,” he reveals. “In order to duplicate a bite or define a pattern, you need to know exactly what was happening when you got that first bite. Everything is a clue. That’s the essence of fishing in the moment,” (Conway, 2011).
My question then became; what is teaching in the moment? Teaching in the moment is presenting material using a technique you believe will get through to the students. Blank looks, fidgeting in the seats, tension or animosity as they come into the room (or don’t show up at all) are signs that you’re not getting a bite. When you see these reactions, you need to make changes, watch, and ask yourself a lot of questions. My guess is that you have made changes in your teaching but the difference between simply making adjustments and teaching in the moment is observing everything that happened when you got that “bite.” How did you phrase what you said? What examples were provided? What visuals were added? Did a student say something? When you see the sign of connecting, note everything in that environment and begin to work your new pattern based on what you learned.
In my Stagecraft class I didn’t do much of this observing. As I look back on the experience, I believe the signs were there. My mistake was not capitalizing on the opportunity because I was too fixated on myself, and not watching the students. Instead of making the small adjustments to my course, I made big movements, and that cost me. Bernie Schultz (B.A.S.S Elite Series professional) wrote, “It’s uncanny how quickly things can change. Your [fishing] pattern, along with the fish, seems to disappear. More than likely they’re right where you found them… just not biting. Rather than run haphazardly all over the lake looking for new fish, the smart move may be to experiment right where you started… first by changing lures, then your presentation,” (Schultz, 2011).
Later, I found myself in a similar situation, but on a smaller scale. Students in my Theatre Lighting Design class were showing signs of “not biting” as I covered a topic related to the lighting control console. I knew that I needed to make a change. Rather than starting the boat’s engine and going elsewhere on the lake, I stayed where I was. I only changed the visuals. Instead of using 2D graphics on a projection screen I brought ping pong balls and little baskets to class. Each ball represented a dimmer and each basket a channel on the console. Putting the balls in the baskets was enough of a visual change that I not only got bites, I got students telling me that they finally understood it. Little changes made a huge difference.
I didn’t forget how to teach my Stagecraft class. I let my attitude affect the choices I made. I made the big changes without observing the signs of a bite. If I had used more of my fishing mindset in the classroom, maybe the results would have been better. Just because I had a bad experience didn’t mean I needed to revamp everything, I just needed to teach in the moment.
Remember, It’s all about the attitude.
Conway, B. (2011, January 21) Michael Iaconelli: Fishing in the Moment. Retrieved (Bassmaster.com) November 28, 2015.
Lane, C. (2015, March 23) All I Wanted was a Limit. Retrieved (Bassmaster.com) March 23, 2015.
Schultz, B. (2011, April 4). When Patterns Go Wrong. Retrieved (Bassmaster.com) November 11, 2015.
Martin, A., Dove, K. (Hosts). (2014, September 15). The Bass Edge [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://podbay.fm