This I Believe

Matthew - Greenbrae, California
Entered on January 9, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

I believe in the power of teaching. Not the actual teaching part itself, because that sounds overly schmaltzy, but instead the power that teaching gives, well, the teachers. As both a high school student and a part-time swim instructor during the summer months, I have witnessed both the ingenuities and the dregs of varying teaching techniques from both ends of the spectrum. Teaching, for me, is all about the issue of qualification. I have found that people are often extremely overqualified for their jobs, but regardless of qualification, people often have not the slightest idea what they are doing. People, of course, meaning me.

My first few weeks in the pool as an instructor ran fairly smoothly. On the first day, I tested the waters with the group of five-year-olds I had been assigned to. I had my kids swim down from one side of the pool, to the other, thinking I already possessed all that I needed to be a good swim instructor: the red lifeguard trunks, the oversized sunglasses, and the customary glob of zinc oxide that painted my nose. When asked the question “Why do we have to do this again?” during my very first lesson, I came up with the original phrase, “Because I said so.” And that was that. Sure, I did have years of swim experience behind me, but what made me in any way qualified to be affecting the outcome of some child’s aquatic career? I felt the paradox of being both a student and a teacher at the same time, wondering if I could genuinely pass as more than just a 17-year-old kid with a swimsuit.

One day in seventh grade math, my teacher asked us to raise our hands. The class waited for him patiently to finish the statement, with, “if you know the answer,” or something along those lines, but he smiled and nodded his head as slowly, one by one, we raised our hands in utter confusion. Years later, what stuck with me was the utter power that teachers hold, and although I know he didn’t mean to, he showed great enjoyment seeing his class blindly follow orders like a marching band on cue.

In the past couple of years, with many lessons under my belt, my attitude about being an instructor has changed. I have come to the conclusion that teaching swim lessons doesn’t require a degree in swimming theory, or a class on water safety, but only the passion to pass on knowledge. Teaching at its best is so genuine, so heartfelt, and so powerful that students remember their instructors for years. And one day, the time will come when my five-year-old lessons will look back, and say, “I wonder what happened to that guy who taught me how to swim, the one with the funny sunscreen and sunglasses?” But until then, my summers will be spent poolside, in a swimsuit, making kids swim from one side of the pool to the other.