How to be a master

How to be a master


By Elisa Jones / Grand Valley Trails Alliance


Elisa Jones Headshot v1

“If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.” ― Lindsay Buckingham


On my first day of student teaching way back in January 2004, the principal sat me and the two other student-teachers down for a chat. We thought it was just an orientation to the school, but it ended up being more of an indoctrination, which was fine. 

I was scared. Visibly.

Sure, I’d been in the classroom lots of times. I was a darn good teacher and I knew it. But it’s one thing to get up and teach and a whole other thing to be a teacher. There’s grading, testing, tracking, management – SO much management – planning, preparation…

I had only a glimpse of what was to come, and I was terrified I would be incapable of doing all that was required. Now, I was sitting in the principal’s office staring the future in the face, both sure and unsure. 

I don’t remember much – this was a decade ago now – but I do remember this one thing. He said we were going to be learning from master teachers. I had never heard the term before, which, like everything else at the time, was scary.

But he expounded. What made them master teachers? he asked.

We all sat there, petrified in response. Here’s the reply he gave to his own query: A master teacher knows they don’t know everything. 

I was so very fortunate that he was right. After four months of teaching side-by-side with Lea Nelson, who deserves a little novel herself (she is one of the great heroes of my life and I will probably dedicate an entire post to her sometime), I came out confident in my abilities not just to teach but to be a teacher

Similarly, as a trail runner/biker/jeeper, I have had to recognize that if I really want to strive for mastery, I have to acknowledge that I haven’t reached it yet. Nor will I ever, because I always want to be learning. 

On nearly every ride, I reminisce about my formative months on the bike – falling, bruising, bleeding, falling, breaking, falling… And I am amazed at my abilities thus far. It’s been less than two years now since I’ve made a dedicated practice of mountain biking, and at least the fear has abated, the skills have developed and the injuries have decreased. 

Yet I’m still willing to admit: I am far from mastery.

And that’s OK. Perhaps mastery is in the method, not in the outcome. 

Elisa Jones is currently the chairman of the board of the Grand Valley Trails Alliance. She has degrees in science, music and business, but most of all she considers herself a teacher. A mother of three, she is an avid trail runner and mountain biker who gets her kicks practicing yoga, advocating for strong schools and indulging in dark chocolate.


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