In an effort to find some way to bring exercise back into my life, I’ve been swimming a few mornings a week at our school pool. Going into the experience, I had fond memories of swimming as a kid on hot Southern California summer days. About five minutes into the water, however, I remembered something about swimming that nostalgia had glossed over in my mind ---I’m just not very good at it.
Each morning I swim, I struggle to find a steady rhythm and stroke, so I splash and gasp my across the pool. Having never learned to flip-turn, after each length, I have to stop and turn myself around. Meanwhile, in the lanes next to me, are co-workers and eleven year-old kids transformed into dolphins, sliding through the water effortlessly, flipping themselves around and passing me twice. They never have to stop, they never seem to gasp, they just cruise along, their hands and feet creating gentle ripples of excellence.
I was complaining to my wife about this, about my embarrassingly public inability and dishearteningly slow improvement. She immediately replied, “It’s good for you. Think about what you make kids do everyday.”
It’s true. Every day, I ask kids who can’t read, can’t do math or struggle with computers to just dive in and get to work. Without thinking twice, I ask them to follow, use, and produce, in pace with their neighbors, regardless of their ability. It’s a part of teaching, especially teaching as a specialist. I usually have 45 minutes with a class and several big ideas to get across, hardly time for elaborate differentiation and remediation.
As adults, especially adults with the time and means to read this blog, we are privileged to focus ourselves on activities where we are competent. Few employers would keep us inefficiently struggling on their dime, and few adults select a hobby they don’t enjoy and can’t do well. Kids have no such luck. They are still building foundational skills and knowledge, which is necessarily diverse and challenging. Rare is the child who won’t encounter at least one area of deficit a day and many will deal with several. The least we can do is remember what it feels like.
Teacher, ask yourself, “When was the last time you struggled?”