Teaching & Learning

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Naomi Shihab Nye

I would rather be known for the things that I am good at, but the truth is, I’m becoming famous for my inability to swim. How I got to be this age without having acquired that skill is a story in itself, but it’s a limitation that is impossible to deny or conceal at a school where the curriculum includes a week at Catalina and P.E. classes in the pool. One afternoon it became clear to me that it was my duty to at least get wet. I had been telling kids repeatedly to push themselves, accept new challenges, and do what seemed most difficult. Being fearful and fifty didn’t feel like a good enough excuse for not trying.

And so I immersed myself tentatively, a large terrestrial mammal in an alien element. And the wonder wasn’t in the cold refreshing slap of it, nor the shimmer of sun on aquamarine, but the circle of students that gathered around, instructing, encouraging, and supporting me. “Lean back and float,” they urged, and they showed me how. “Put your face in the water! Hold onto the wall and keep kicking!” Isn’t it funny how something that is so easy and natural to one person can seem impossibly difficult to someone else? It’s a good thing for a teacher to remember.

But these were gracious instructors and benevolent graders. Even when I felt I had accomplished very little, they gave me credit for my effort and assured me that I had done well. I wanted so much to succeed and make them proud of me, but they were pleased just knowing that I had tried hard. They believe that I can accomplish this, and it gives me a feeling that I might.

And so, though I never actually learned to float, I left the pool feeling absolutely buoyant.
Small miracles happen every day at Dunn — it’s a community of learners, and the lessons are not always the ones we expect.

I remember now why I chose to teach. And I understand that teaching and learning are not opposites at all, but two faces of the same fluid process, and depending on the play of light on the water, we glimpse one or the other in any given moment.
– Cynthia

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