Monday, April 29, 2019

Commit to the Go

Post-swim Halewia Sprint Tri 2013
I vividly remember the moment I realized I am capable of more than my mind or my body thinks I am.

I was a swimmer for forever. For years before high school on a year round team, and then once I got to high school I swam for my year round team until swim season, then I switched over to the high school team. It was in high school that I became a stroke specialist, because in high school the coach needs to place swimmers in specific races. Due to my experience I could have swum just about anything (though putting me in the breaststroke or backstroke would have been pushing it), but I got put into the butterfly. Fly is the most notorious stroke, and the most difficult to to master. Yeah, I said it breaststrokers. Take your frog-looking nonsense into a different lane before I smack you in the back of the head as I fly past you.

Fly is hard. And it was mine. And I loved it.

It was a morning work out early in the season my freshman year. We were one or two sets into the workout when coach called out the set. "10 x 100 Specialty stroke" on some time that would make things interesting. 10 x 100 means ten reps of 100 yard swims. The time was probably 1:20 or something. So you have a minute twenty to swim four laps. The faster you do it the more rest you get. The faster you do it the quicker you get tired. Up until this particular practice I thought about this set as a survival set. How do I swim it fast enough to get rest, but not so fast that I burn up? This morning, completely on accident, I blew past that and learned something about myself.

I crushed that first 100. It felt great. Checking my time when I hit the wall it looked like I went out way too hard, but it didn't feel like it. So I punched the next one too. That one felt good. I was strong and my stroke way working exactly like it should. I went harder on the third one. By this point I the Governor in the back of my head was waving a calculator around and shouting, "If you keep this up you will die by the eighth hundred! It'll be bad!" I ignored him. It's hard to hear that voice when blood and water pound in your ears. It started to hurt around six. Here it comes, I thought. But it didn't. My times didn't drop. My arms didn't fall off and sink to the bottom of the pool. Swim hard. Hit the wall. Suck wind. Go again. Get some. Go again. During the ninth hundred it finally clicked. I'm so much stronger than I thought I was. I've got this. Holy crap. if I can do this races should be so much more intense.

Changed. My. Life.

Right at that moment. In the pool, heart pounding, shoulders and abs burning. Everything changed. I found another gear. I found a strength in myself that I didn't know was there. My body didn't know it could do that. My brain didn't know.

This became advice that I would give to other swimmers. "How do I go faster?" "Commit to the Go and don't question it." It's the only way.

Yes, I see you waving your hand. I know this is a teaching blog. But really, at this point if you can't start drawing these parallels for yourself I don't know if you're actively reading.

I don't shy from Big Projects. Cardboard arcade. Rube Goldberg machine. Benches with a local construction company. Westward Expansion in the from of a Beautiful Mind string web. I have faith. Faith in myself that I can plan and execute a Big Project. I have faith that my students can find an extra gear and get the Big Project done. I will put things in front of them and have the same feeling I felt around the fifth 100. "I dunno about this, seems like it could end poorly." But I still put it in front of them because what's the worst that could happen? It does go poorly? Then we learn from that too. (I've got a principal that understands this is how I teach and she is ok with it. I've been less lucky other places, so I know how lucky I am now. If she ever tries to leave I'm chaining myself to her desk.)

I can't go straight to a Big Project, of course. But I start with projects that push them to different places than they thought they could go. We do the spaghetti towers immediately. We do a Quick Build in the first week. We're constantly finding limits and expanding them outward.

We fall down all the time too. Fourth graders don't just do cool projects because I'm like, "In high school I learned I could swim faster than I thought I could!" But I also had a lot of practices after that realization that kicked my butt and crushed me. My kids make bad projects. They don't put full effort in. They're ten, they don't know what full effort really is yet, mostly. But they're learning.

Here at the end of the year it's easy to stumble. I don't begrudge anyone who does either. This job is unspeakably difficult and to push hard all the way through is sometimes more than you can ask of a teacher. Sometimes we just make it to the end. Sometimes our classes do too. Been there. But that moment in the pool broke me just enough to allow me to see that the bottom isn't always the bottom. Sometimes it is, and it moves around. There's too many variables in a classroom to believe someone who marches in and says, "You Can Do Better! Have More Passion And Tenacity And CRUSH This Final Month." But what I'm saying is I know that, for me, if I can see it clearly, I can find the end and find it with a proper level of intensity.

Then the end of the year comes and I promptly get sick for a week, so...

*I know this should have like a big Rah Rah ending or something, but I just can't do that. I know how much we struggle and I don't want to finish on some disingenuous, disconnected note. So what's the goal for this post? What do I want a reader to get out of it? "Be inspired, be hardcore, but know thyself." Doesn't look good on a t-shirt or a hashtag, though. Ah well, that's for someone else to do.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

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