Everything I needed to know about teaching I learned from Swim Team

IMG_3709Every summer as the school year ends, my children and I enter our favorite time of the year. A time defined by early morning swim practices, necessary cups of coffee poolside with toddlers hanging about, and endless Wednesday night meets often delayed by thunderstorms. Despite the heat, the frenetic pace of our mornings as I squeeze three sleepy swimmers and one toddler into their swim suits, and the hours spent standing on pavement holding a stop watch, our summers at the Key West Swim club by far the finest investment I’ve made in my children’s extracurricular life. Some of my best moments as a parent have occurred as I’ve watched my three oldest children progress from non-swimmers who barely made it half way down the pool into confident athletes who fearlessly dive into the olympic size pool at the University of Virginia at the end of the season.

As I witnessed the transformation of our third child this year as she went from swimming every race including free style on her back to a confident swimmer of two strokes, I realized that what I love about this experience is not only the pride I get as a parent, but the inspiration I find as a teacher. Really everything I believe we need to know about teaching I get to see lived every day as our magnificent coaches work with a wide range of student swimmers. So what did I see?

I saw children of all ages and abilities being taught by coaches who were able to differentiate their instruction and reach every level of swimmer.

I watched in wonder as every child became known for their strengths and weaknesses, and were encouraged to do their best. Miraculously, or perhaps not so miraculously, because of these relationships between the teachers and the students, every child learned to swim to the best of their ability.

I saw coaches who were willing to jump in and get right beside their learners to show them a stroke when telling them just wasn’t good enough.

I watched as our coaches gave constructive criticism with the kind of positive tone that always allowed the child to retain his or her dignity and believe they could and would do better.

I witnessed the virtue of  expert teachers as one of the reasons our coaches are so incredibly successful is that they really know what they are talking about. In an age when we seem to underrate the value of having experts in classrooms, swim team is an excellent example of why masters are able to provide the best instruction. I cannot imagine having a teacher who couldn’t swim teach my five year old how to stay afloat. We should remember that as we hear from various “experts” and consultants about how a good teacher can teach anything and how being an authority in the field of one’s class really isn’t that important.

I looked on as individuals became team mates and friends who supported and looked out for one and other, and who modeled excellent sportsmanship and teamwork because that was the standard of behavior demanded of them.

I saw everything that I hope to see everyday in my classes. I saw engaged, enthusiastic learners who realize that their individual progress is important, but that the team is what really matters.

I saw children who knew that what they did, how hard they worked, the attitude they exhibited mattered not just to their parents, but to everyone involved.

And ultimately, I saw how sometimes, as the picture above of our five year old getting ready to dive into the deepest pool of her life suggests,  when things are a bit scary having someone to hold your hand is really all you need.

So really everything I need to know about teaching, I get to see every day in swim team. I am so glad to be back at school, but I am already counting the days until the pool opens next summer. Good night and happy new year!