A teachable moment, in education, is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students. A teachable moment is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher. Often it will require a brief digression that temporarily sidetracks the original lesson plan so that the teacher can explain a concept that has inadvertently captured the students' collective interest. It is a concept you are taught when you become a teacher. But it is one that sometimes many of us overlook in our everyday lives. As an aspiring writer I was fortunate to find a teachable moment in handling rejection when I received a rejection letter about one of my manuscripts the same time my son found out he was cut from a hockey team he desperately wanted to play on. This year I used that one teachable moment to teach my son a more in depth lesson about handling.
As a mom of an athletic child I am all too familiar with the stresses of tryouts, especially at upper level tiers. Tryouts can be brutal on the nerves of children and parents. The anxiety felt while waiting for a callback, or the depression when your child finds out they didn’t make a team can be overwhelming. As a parent you feel awful for your child. I know. I have experienced all of this with my own son who plays travel hockey. But there is nothing that can be done about it except to try to teach your kids to move on, to use this rejection as a way to improve for the following year. But many parents today don’t do that. Instead, they yell at coaches in front of the kids. They buy their way onto teams. Some of them teach their kids to quit altogether. And there are still other parents who will convince their kids to play on teams at lower levels so their kid will be the big fish in the little pond, never allowing the child to challenge themselves.
I sat down and thought about what I go through as an aspiring writer and the teachable moment I was able to have with my son in the past using my writing. This time I wanted to build on that, teaching him that rejections don’t mean you aren’t good enough. They are only obstacles to overcome.
Looking at the upcoming tryout season, I knew my son was going to be trying out for a triple A travel hockey team. It would be a hard team for him to make because I knew he was a bubble player. There were skills he needed to work on but others he excelled at. I knew this could be a huge disappointment for him so I decided to parallel this experience with a book manuscript I was writing.
Fortunately, the parallel between writing and playing sports was an easy one for me to create and one that he would be able to understand. Being an aspiring writer is just like trying out for a team. You work to create a story. Your story is critiqued and then you edit. And edit. And edit some more. Sometimes feeling that you will never get it right, no matter how hard you try. Critiquing and editing a manuscript is just like practicing for a sport. More time is spent on practicing then actual game play in any sport. You practice as a team. You practice on your own. If you are lucky you even practice with a private coach. For my son he spent roughly fifteen hours a week practicing and three hours a week playing actual games.
I created two charts for our home- one for my book and one for my son's hockey. Editing on my part is equal to practicing on his part. Classes and workshops for writing are equal to hockey clinics and camps. I wanted to demonstrate how much work needed to be put into being successful. These charts helped create a comparison for my son to understand the work I put into a single manuscript, even a 407 word picture book, to the work he was putting in for hockey.
But the teachable moment, that big life lesson, is what came next. As most writers do, we keep track of all those agents and publishing houses we submit our stories to. I posted my list on my refrigerator prior to the team tryout. When I started to receive rejections from agents and publishing houses I showed the letters to my son. Sometimes, I even let him open the letters first. Then we marked them on the spreadsheet found on the refrigerator. My list of rejections grew longer and longer. Although, it was upsetting I kept working on my manuscript and continued to query new agents.
As hockey team tryouts came and went so did the list of kids who made the team. This was the moment I had been preparing for. Although, I had hoped it would go in my son’s favor unfortunately, my son’s name wasn’t on the roster. The disappointment led to tears being shed. But the tears only lasted for a couple of minutes. Soon enough I heard the all-to-familiar clang of the pucks hitting the metal bars of the net in my basement. I ventured downstairs after some time had passed to inquire how he was feeling. When I asked if he was angry he said, "No, I am "editing". It's only one rejection. There are many more teams out there."
As writers we have a unique way to show our kids, grandkids, and those around us that rejection is just an obstacle to overcome. After all, rejection letters are just part of becoming a writer, a lesson that is hardly taught to others. So I implore you to share your rejections with those around you and be their role models, demonstrating how we as writers are taught to deal with rejections and use them to become better writers.