The first day of class is always a bit stressful. I couldn’t decide what to wear exactly (Is this suit too flashy? Do I have the right cap?). I was worried I wouldn’t find a parking spot, so I left a good 30 minutes earlier than I should have, forcing me to wait in the room by myself. I found a seat, and then tried to figure out what to do with my big winter coat and all my stuff: should I shove it all under the chair? Leave it in the aisle?
People started to walk into the room. I looked around nervously trying to decide which person was my instructor. Oh, yes, the instructor must be the one with the clipboard even though she looks 12. And it became increasingly obvious which students were joining me in the kindly titled “Advanced Beginner” class and which were there for the Masters class: we were the ones who had the new bathing suits, caps and goggles, and a certain cluelessness about where to sit.
Finally, the charming (but so young!) instructor called us together and swimming class began.
There are only 4 of us in this class and we do make an interesting group. Two of us are middle aged women: we know how to stay above water, and can sort of do a crawl, but not at all well enough to do more than a lap or two without total exhaustion and excess water inhalation. One of the men is also middle aged: he has a bit more experience but is trying to wean himself off the fins and kick board. And then there is the younger guy—though not as young as the 12-year-old looking instructor. He claimed, oh so modestly, to have little experience in swimming, but when the instructor asked us to show us how/if we could swim a lap, he powered easily and quickly. It took me a jealous minute or two to realize that he held his breadth the entire time, which is not exactly sustainable lap swimming. But he became my pacer: the guy I was going to learn to beat. By the end of the three weeks, by golly, I was going to lap him.
Because of this overarching goal of mine, the instructor asked me several times to slow it down so she could look at my form—and correct it.
So it seems that my motivation as a student was, and is, and will always be, competition. Undoubtedly I transmit that to my students in some way, although I tell them that it’s not a competition, and I use rubrics to prove to them that I’m grading based on very specific criteria (though admittedly, one criterion is the indefinable “wow factor”). I know I attract competitive students (I’m the honors advisor, too, so I’m basically surrounded by them), but I also have many mellow students who continue to take my classes, and who are not at all interested in the “A”.
Maybe they just like learning to swim with me?
Our swimming instructor is actually quite good: she learned our names easily (I know, there are only 4 of us, but I don’t remember the name of that youngish guy, and no I wasn’t distracted by his shirtlessness at all); she gave us concrete feedback on the way we kicked, stroked, held our heads. I thanked her at the end of the session, hopefully not in a kiss assy sort of way (not that she’s actually grading us or anything). By the end of the first hour I felt like I had worked out, and the tight quads and calves that I felt when I crawled out of bed the next morning are definitely going to make running the upcoming Xmas 5K challenging.
I’m a little envious of this young instructor, teaching a class of students who are highly motivated and who really want to learn to swim. It’s the last week of the quarter here at Ivory Coast Community College, and it’s been a week of excuses, but also a week of triumphs, as students practically yell “Aha! I think I’ve got it!” But most, admittedly, didn’t take my required classes because they really wanted to learn something new. I had to implant that desire into them or drag it out of them, depending on your teaching philosophy, which is, as most of you know, exhausting.
I’m so looking forward to being the student over the next few weeks: I will gladly take off the professorial glasses and neck scarves, put on my swimming beanie (and yes, you can wear such a thing backwards), and enjoy being in charge of only my own learning.