Among the things I enjoy most are spending time with my family, teaching and fishing. The only one that allows me much time for reflection is fishing. I was on the James River recently with my fishing mentor and guide. A rugged sort of man and his steely eyes rarely break from the waters surface as the river slowly carves its way between the rounded knobs that direct its path to the Ocean. He's probably forgotten more about fishing then I'll ever know. Our trips take an entire day and can be grueling if you are not ready for them. You have to rise before the sun, endure the triple digit heat, make 4-5 casts a minute for 11 hours, and sometimes dodge horrific thunderstorms to stay alive. But rowing down the river that helped spawn America trying to catch something that doesn't want to be caught is a place I really enjoy being.
He talks very little while guiding but when he does he's either yelling at me like an old school coach for letting a fish escape or sharing insights only gained from countless hours spent fishing. He's taught me a lot about the river, the land and life. On a recent blazing June day he was working hard trying to put me on some fish and his efforts granted me an opportunity to reflect as I scanned the river picking my spots. I thought a lot about the past year teaching, how tough it was and how without times like this to decompress I don't think I'd make it.
During our break for lunch we got to talking and soon our discussion turned towards my job. I mentioned at times recently working in a school was not so fun and that in a perfect world I might have what it takes to be a fishing guide. As scary as it sounds I am not certain I'd have enough patience to let others fish while I watched. Not considering that the river might be an equally tough place to work I allowed myself to compare the two jobs as I sometimes do. Guess what, here I go again. Resting on the bank in the shade that day I think I decided fishing guide might be one of the jobs that is as tough on you mentally as teaching. Stay with me.
Guides have to balance a lot of things. Maneuvering the boat among the rocks, choosing bait, bringing supplies, finding the right presentation are among the countless things affecting whether or not they are successful. As good as they are, a guide must accept that many things beyond their control play a role in catching fish. You might be the best darn fisherman in the world and still get thwarted by some external thing. The weather, changing water conditions, and fishing pressure can derail all your efforts. Some forces working against you are so powerful and complex they defy comprehension(the recent Fish kills are as scary to me as some education reform). But the most important factor in catching fish is the skill of angler you are guiding.
You can have all the ingredients in place. Right rod and reel, right bait, water, weather, fishing the perfect spot, with a huge bass just sitting there ready to bite. You can do everything right and it is still up to the person holding the rod to get it the fish to the boat. With a smallmouth that is never easy. So here is where guides and teachers share some things. In the case of teachers it is ultimately up to the student if they are going to be successful.
Teachers, like guides, have a huge impact on their "clients". There is abundant research to support the claim that teachers can profoundly impact a child's success. No such research exists in the fishing world but it is not needed. Feedback is immediate. A good guide can make or break a trip and the quality of the experience even if the fish don't cooperate. But really great guides, like mine, don't just make a difference on that day. They equip you with skills and knowledge that will serve you well into the future and you'll use the rest of your life. They make you better.
As a teacher I hope I have that same impact on my kids but after working hard, doing my best for them and trying to make them better I accept that when push comes to shove it is up to them. Sure testing provides some timely feedback but when that kid walks out your door for the last time...it's up to them. This week I took a buddy who doesn't fish as much as me out on the James. There was a boat in front of us, hitting some of the holes I knew held fish. Every bite they got was one we didn't. After about an hour and some adjustments I dialed him in on some solid fish and he did OK. I shared the satisfaction of him landing a few big ones and also the defeat when some of the bigger fish took advantage of his lack of experience.
So I did OK as a guide on this day but conditions were pretty easy. We had a great time on the river. Time will tell if I made my buddy a better fisherman. At the very least I tried to impart some of what the river and my guide have taught me. I was reminded that you need knowledge, skill, some luck, and a whole lot of patience to make it as a guide and sit there while someone else catches all the fish. But perhaps more importantly you need to be willing to accept you cannot control everything. I deal with this reality both on the river and in the classroom. The idea that as good as I am it is not all up to me might be tough for some, but maybe that's part of what makes my job and my hobby so rewarding and keeps me coming back for more. Though I will admit the paycheck and the monster fish don't hurt.