On Freestyle and Learning and Teaching and Life

I had a swimming lesson yesterday.

It’s not that I couldn’t swim before; I preferred the backstroke because it didn’t require specially timed breathing to avoid drowning.  I could get myself across the pool and tread water decently.

But swimmers make it look easy to move through the water, head down, gliding with smooth strokes, and I know none of that ease.

Kelsie is a swimmer, though, and a teacher, too.  When I asked if she would help me with my lack of swimming skills, she excitedly agreed.  So Friday, we hit the pool.  (See photos of the facility here.)

Freestyle it was, and freestyle involves breathing- coordinated breathing.  Coordinated breathing means you don’t suck in the whole pool while one arm is stroking and the other arm is waiting its turn.  I apparently don’t do coordinated breathing so well.  (I knew there was a reason I didn’t make it past level 3 in swimming lessons back in the day!)

I lost track of the false starts and coughing fits and thinking I might die in the middle of the pool and bangs strung across my face after a bit.  Kelsie, apparently, has the patience of Job.  She modeled, and watched me, and coached, and encouraged, and finally said, “I wonder what would happen if you just pushed through it.”  (“It” would be the moment of panic when there was more water than air in my mouth, leading me to thoughts of death right then and there.)

And lo and behold, I can swim.

Now don’t get me wrong- it’s not pretty (yet) and it’s not smooth (yet).  But there was a  magical moment when I thought, “This is how people have fun swimming!”

A few moments later, I realized that I had just experienced a few moments in the life of a  student (or two) in my class.  I don’t know yet exactly who those students will be, but most classes have a student or two (or more) for whom things don’t come quickly or easily.  While others glide, they thrash.  The expectations of school and their natural strengths just aren’t quite aligned, and everything.is.hard.everyday.  How easy it is to forget that learning is often really hard work, even with encouragement and support.

So on Monday, I will go back to third grade and teach better.  I’ll share the story of learning to swim as I walk through the novice/apprentice/practitioner/expert learning line, and my kids will like it.  But more importantly, I will have renewed empathy for those who wonder when they might drown in third grade, and I’ll help them to keep going, even if it does take a few false starts.

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3 thoughts on “On Freestyle and Learning and Teaching and Life

  1. I love this analogy! It is so true that our students have moments of difficulty in learning, and if we can teach them to persevere through them, they will come out the other side with increased confidence, and a stronger picture of themselves as learners. Now you have a story you can tell your students to help them through the rough spots.

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