Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sink or Swim, Float or Faith

Sink or swim is a term often used in education and life. It means simply doing something, maybe without preparation or the right skills and either succeeding or failing at it.  Sometimes in our lives we are pulled out into waters we never intended to venture into and we have to sink or swim, even though it isn't a choice we want to make but feel we are being forced into.

Back when I was student teaching in an internship teaching English language-learners and my first classes for my bilingual license, we often talked about ELLs are expected to sink or swim when it came to comprehending academics.  Students with a natural gift for language and learning succeeded and still do, whereas students who didn't have the proper supports (in terms of vocabulary and modeling, etc.) struggled in school and began to account for those gaps in their academic achievementwe are so trying to close between different demographics of students.  Sink or swim means you rely on nothing but yourself, and there are simply too many times (in education and in life) where someone needs support, a lifeline to be pulled in.

Sometimes we are too preoccupied to see that we won't necessarily sink.  We are so panicked by the fact that we are swept out to sea, we do nothing but float.  Being kept afloat is still surviving, but it is no way to teach, no way to learn, and no way to live. Surprisingly some people are satisfied with simply floating with the status quo. Some people look desperately for ways to get out (and those who try are better swimmers than they ever thought).  

This analogy occurred to me while we were in a training for a new math curriculum today.  In our district, Kindergarten hasn't even had a curriculum adopted for our grade level for probably close to 10 years (my best guess).  Experienced teachers knew what Kindergartners could and should learn; all teachers based what they taught and practiced from the skill standards on the report card.  I couldn't tell you what, if anything that was based on as far as research goes.  So there was nothing to use to teach math, and even less to teach math in Spanish.  We were floating with little to hold on to. Some scrap wood, maybe.  Now we have a curriculum that is being adopted for Kindergarten AND it comes in Spanish for bilingual teachers.  It seems like it should be a no-brainer, but after not having anything really for the two years I've been teaching Kinder math, I'm pretty excited. Someone finally noticed us floating out here (teachers and students) and they are throwing us a line and pulling us in to solid research to stand on.  Despite the presenter asking us to have faith in the research and the completeness in progressive skills and behaviors taught, I noticed some teachers in the training were a little unwilling to let go of their floating scraps of wood. It's hard to let go of something that seemed so safe at one point. Adopting the new curriculum isn't going to be easy, but it will be easier for those of us (newer teachers) who were flailing instead of floating. 

There are times when one ends up in the water and has to swim back into shore, whether it be in a job or a relationship.  It's a long hard swim, but sometimes you have to have faith that it will get you where you need to be.  You may not make it if you get overtired or hit an undertow in the current, but there is risk in everything. If you did nothing you would be floating forever at the mercy of the waves (or in Spanish, A la deriva). In reflecting back on the last five years, there were many times when I had little faith in my abilities or value as a person and felt that I was floating. Those were very unhappy times.

Sometimes the only way you will have success, get to solid ground, is if you commit to something full-force, but not blindly. You have to know where the sharks are swimming, a guess of where the current is flowing, and if there's anyone who will throw you a line if you simply can't anymore. I truly believe that faith isn't blind.  I think faith can be attributed to intuitiveness or perceptiveness of our current conditions, part of it is based on past experience, and is also influenced by our hopes for the future. Part of committing fully to something, investing in it, is perceiving what factors affect what you are about to undertake. 

Sometimes you are blessed with the clarity in which you see an opportunity present itself, and it couldn't be a better time. Sweet serendipity, the clouds part, the sea calms, and you swim.


I heard this song on my way to pick up my son on the radio, and it reminded me to write. For your listening pleasure, "Faith" by George Michael. 

Before this river
Becomes an ocean
Before you throw my heart back on the floor
Oh baby I reconsider
My foolish notion
Well I need someone to hold me
But I'll wait for something more

Yes I've gotta have faith...

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