Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Pushing Through

Summer 2016
Last summer I was on vacation in my favorite spot, Daufuskie Island. Prior to our trip, I had been trying to run 2-3 times a week. Both of my boys were going to try a new sport that fall, Cross Country. In solidarity, I laced up my shoes. It wasn't pretty. I'm not in great shape. I walk daily, but running was a struggle. Yet, I continued plodding down our street and trying to improve. Ugh. Then, we went on vacation. The heat and humidity were enough to make me throw in the towel. Yet, I knew I needed to do something, anything. At forty-two (then), I knew fitness was important. I was beginning to wonder, however, if running was not the path for me.

On day two on the island I biked past the lap pool. I paused. I love the water. I loved swimming as a kid. Every summer I usually find myself at a pool and swim a few laps. Maybe that would be the ticket? I went back to the house and grabbed my goggles.

That first day I swam maybe ten laps (twenty lengths). It was slow going. The next day I decided to try 20 laps (40 lengths) because that would be 1000 yards. I did it, with many breaks, in about 50 minutes or so. The rest of the week, I continued to trek to the pool each day and squeeze in a swim. I found I was actually looking forward to it.

Returning from vacation I swam at my local pool in the mornings before they opened for swim lessons, two to three times a week. When the school year began, I turned to the YMCA, about twenty miles away. First after school, then waking up at 5am, I found myself continuing my swimming practice. There were two times during the year that I was interrupted from my weekly ritual for illness, but I persevered.

This summer I've continued to swim, three to four times most weeks. My longest swim to date was 2000 yards (40 laps, 80 lengths). The time was 56 minutes, not too far from my first swims that were half that distance in a similar time. 

My sons both enjoy running. My oldest has gone to state now twice in track, once in Cross Country. I used to love to run, but like all things in life, that has changed. What I love about swimming is what I enjoyed about running. The solitude. The feeling of competing against myself. The time to find my center.

This week I grew frustrated. This has probably been my best summer for fitness since I was a teen. Two mile walks each day with my dogs, swimming over two miles a week, and I've recently added PiYo DVDs to the mix, yet the scale doesn't budge. If anything, it has jumped a bit in the wrong direction. I exhaled. Loudly.

Then I pulled myself together. My clothes are looser. My anxiety is much more manageable. I feel stronger, happier. Swimming has brought me back to the person I was when I was young. The preteen who loved counting the strokes to breathe, letting the laps add up as I plowed through. Maybe the numbers don't matter as much as the pure enjoyment of knowing I'm doing what is best for me. 

And that's a lesson I think I need to take into the fall. My seventh graders came to me last year, some as kids who had been identified as readers that struggle for years. The defeat is easy to read in their body language, or outright in their writing, if you look for it. I tried hard not to focus on the numbers, but focus on the child. When I jumped in that pool last summer, I would have quit if someone said I needed to swim 1000 yards in 27 minutes. I just enjoyed the journey. Now, that's easy and I'm looking to improve. 

What can I do to meet my students where they are? To make their journey as readers and writers in seventh grade one they look forward to, one they want to jump in and try, even if it's tough? It's something I am always thinking about. The only sure way to grow as readers and writers is to be actually doing that work, just as I had to put in the work in the pool. So how to get kids to want to read and write? Choice in their books and writing topics helps. So does access to books, strong relationships, a supportive classroom community, lessons that engage. And, like I did this week, I think addressing frustrations head on and not letting the "data" get you down is key, but continuing to push forward. I'm excited to meet this new batch of kids next month and dive in to our year together. I think we're going to have a great one.
Summer 2017