Lessons Learned


I spent the first few weekends of the summer traveling with my son to various lacrosse tournaments in New York and New Jersey. And in between I spent quite a few 5:30 a.m. mornings at Walden Pond teaching him how to fish.


I have many fond memories of my father teaching me how to fish when I was younger, so I was overjoyed when my 10-year-old son asked me to teach him. Now, let me start off by admitting that when I go to Walden Pond, I go to catch fish! What I learned was that my son had different intentions. Unless you’re on a boat, fishing at Walden is mostly a waiting game. Knowing the topography, times the fish are active and the right bait usually make the waiting worthwhile.


On day one we got to the pond and I had the whole process structured for him. I showed him a good spot, taught him how to tie the hook, add a sinker and apply the bait. Then, we cast the rod and waited. He looked at me and said, “That’s it? This is fishing? Can I try casting again?” I explained to him that in order to catch a fish, we needed to be patient. Needless to say, after about 10 minutes he said, “Fishing is really boring.” So, on day one he was bored, didn’t really learn anything and didn’t want to go again. And we didn’t catch a fish.


I realized I had to change my game plan. On day two I rigged a third rod with a lure that needed to constantly be cast and reeled in, and off we went. We set up the two stationary poles and he went to work with the lure. Knowing that it wasn’t going to land us a fish, I just went with it. He would cast a bunch of times, stop, look for frogs and crayfish, cast, stop, try to catch minnows by hand while asking things like: “How did the pond get there?” “How deep is it?” “How come it doesn’t run out of water?”


On day two we still failed our objective, no fish. After further reflection, even though we didn’t catch a fish, it was anything but a failure! We focused less on catching a fish and worked on some of the steps to get us there. My son learned about the pond’s topography, he practiced casting and he became less fearful of the water. Finally, and most importantly, he couldn’t wait to go again.


The hard reality for me was that I wanted to catch a fish more than my son did, and I was reminded that before I could get to the difficult task of getting down to the real business of fishing, I had to make sure this was something he wanted to do.


On a lot of levels I feel that this anecdote parallels the classroom. My “student” arrived at the learning environment early in the morning eager to learn, stayed through the lesson, and gave me feedback that he was bored and really wasn’t interested in returning. Using that feedback I made some adjustments, and my son not only learned how to fish, he also learned about fishing.


The fact is, I was the only one that cared about results. My son just wanted to learn. When I put what I wanted aside and focused on his needs, I got the results I was looking for. I taught him to fish, but he gave me a much more valuable lesson. n


Christopher Gelinas is a housemaster at Waltham High School and lives in Waltham with his wife and two children.

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06 Sep 2013

By By Christopher Gelinas