My first job
When I was 16, I started my first job as a summer lifeguard at the town pool. I could not have asked for a better first job experience. I worked with all my friends and got paid to sit outside all day. While some may find the tasks of a lifeguard boring and mundane, I saw it as an opportunity to embrace my community.
As a lifeguard, I was also trained to teach swim lessons. My age group was always the “bubble babies.” These are the students who have never been exposed to swimming before and still need a flotation device for constant support. No one ever wanted to teach this age group because they require a lot of patience, but I readily volunteered.
Yes, this age group was highly stressful at times, but they were also the most rewarding. Imagine: it’s the first day of swimming lessons, and 50% of your students are terrified of the water. Some refuse to get in, while others refuse to let go of you. By the end of the week, there is always an improvement.
For example: one week, I had a student who refused to put her face in the water. She would only swim if I was holding on to her, and when it came time for her to jump off the diving board (and into a swim instructor’s arms), she typically cried. By the end of the week, she loved the water. This experience is literally magic.
One thing I learned as a swim instructor is that you have to let kids explore at their own rate. Pulling students into the water is never a smart idea. First, you have to build trust. Then, you must set the example. Don’t force them to love the water, SHOW them how to love the water.
My job today
This weekend, I went to the pool with three of the girls I babysit. Two of the girls are just learning how to swim; their names are Broughton (age 2) and Taylor (age 3), but we call them the “Reds” because they have the most vibrant red hair. The oldest girl is Lily (age 7) and she is sweet as can be.
Lily was so excited to hang out with me this weekend because she is usually in school when I babysit the Reds. I spent as much time as I could with her, but I had to keep a close eye on my Reds because they are so little.
Lily wanted everyone to play. “Come on Taylor!” she would say. But Taylor knew her limitations in the water (according to her grandmother, Gigi). She was perfectly satisfied sitting on the steps playing with her mermaid. Broughton was excited about the water, but only when I was holding her (this is fine, she JUST turned 2).
Lily and I set the example. We laughed and played and practiced our strokes. In time, Taylor slowly left her steps and came to join us in the water. I would exclaim, “Good job Taylor!” every time she did the slightest kick. This encouragement had Taylor smiling from ear to ear. I could see her becoming braver.
Swimming with my girls made me think back on all the bubble babies I have taught in the past. Swimming is a scary thing, but all of my students have learned to love the water. However, the students with the strongest passion for swimming are the ones that I let play on the steps. I set the tone, and when they were ready, they followed me out into the water.
I believe this theory can apply to all aspects of teaching. Let students play, let them explore, and they will always get where they need to be. “Trust the process” (I’m pretty sure this is a quote from one of Design Management teachers or textbooks, but it applies here too).