Nearly 20 years ago, I had my first experience in the deepest part of the camp pool.
We were practicing something I hated: treading water. When treading water, I was in constant motion but felt stationary, like I was doing a lot of work for nothing, like I was struggling to survive. At times my head would dip below the water and I’d gasp for air. Treading water was taught as a survival skill, not as something for pleasure. If ever you find yourself in a place where you can’t swim, then tread water. That was the idea.
I much preferred swimming to treading water. When swimming, I felt daring and bold. I could race against my friends. We could go to parts of the pool we wanted. I was in constant motion, but in a good way. It was good, difficult work, but it left me with the kind of fatigue that is disguised by the sense of satisfaction one feels after a successfully-completed mentally or physically demanding act.
As teachers, which pool experience do we have more? Do we get the freedom and joy of swimming, or do we get the survival-based stress of treading water?
I like to think of myself as one of the swimmers, but there are times when I definitely feel I’m treading. Sometimes deadlines and expectations pile up so quickly it feels nearly impossible to get through them. We tread and hope to survive.
Is our teaching encouraging our students to tread or swim? I often feel like we are going through the motions of designated work, treading in the deep end. Do students see the big picture or are they just worried about getting through the day, the period, the moment? Is it that they can’t swim or that we don’t give them the opportunities?
How do we, teachers and our students, safely enjoy swimming in the pool without fearing for our survival?