Swimming is my passion.
Much more than that, teaching is my passion.
I love imparting knowledge, helping children discover skills they didn’t know they had and the new found joy in practicing those skills over and over again.
I wasn’t quite ready for how difficult teaching in Cambodia was going to be, and I wish I’d better prepared myself for the challenge.
Time and distance from Phnom Penh was all I needed to appreciate the internship for the treasure it was and it hasn’t dampened my long term goals to be a classroom teacher.
Teaching swimming is the only thing I’ve ever been good at.
The only thing that has ever come effortlessly. I love the challenge of a child with difficult behaviour, or the kid who has a screw kick, or those kids that just can’t work out how to use their arms and legs at the same time.
I love being a child whisperer, calming the nervous kids down and getting them in the water, and laughing and enjoying the lesson.
I love working out how they think and finding their own way of learning.
Each child remembers things differently, learns things differently and I’ve taught the same practice a hundred different ways.
With swimming you can do that.
sure roly polys are fun, but there’s a purpose to them and yes, i did just push you in unexpectedly, but you knew what to do once you were wet.
My favourite part was always teaching the water safety stuff, the basic water skills that look like a lot of fun, but are essential for children to be confident in the water – knowing and understanding their buoyancy could be the difference between life and death.
And I’m not exaggerating.
At the very core, these are survival skills.
I want my swimmers to be strong enough and brave enough to kick to the nearest wall or river bank if they find themselves in trouble.
I want them to know that they can tread water, how to call for help, how to float and keep their face dry so they can fill their lungs with air if they need to swim to safety.
After moving to Australia I realised that there it’s more important than ever that it is automatic that children can at least turn around and get back to the side of a pool if they fall in – most families have access to a pool, and despite legislation tightening, there are still a heart breaking number of drownings each year in Australia.
I don’t think teaching a child to kick their legs, in water they can stand up in, in the same pool they’ve always swam in is teaching.
I have seen incredibly confident children freak the fuck out when you take them to ‘the big pool’, because that’s not where they normally swim and to me, I’m not doing my job right if that’s happening.
I want my swimmers to be strong enough and confident enough to know they are safe in any pool, that if they fall in to water, they will be ok.
I always try and take my beginners in to the big pool at the end of each lesson, to get them jumping in, to start teaching them how to tread water, and to get them used to the idea that sometimes they just need to get their head down and kick.
there’s no formal qualification needed to teach in nz, this model supports dispassionate teachers who just want to make an easy buck, and the children suffer.
I didn’t have that in New Zealand.
I didn’t have that bond with the kids, I didn’t have the connection and the excitement.
I’m not saying that all children in New Zealand lack imagination, but the swim school did. They had been drilled for so long on front kicking and back kicking, without gaining any real strength or confidence. An IKEA kit lesson, sometimes put together without the Allan key, or missing a few bolts, these kids had never really been taught, they were being produced.
I had advanced swimmers who couldn’t tread water, who’d never swam in a different pool. Stroke and squad level swimmers who thought breaststroke started with your legs. Children who couldn’t jump in and swim back to the slide, children who didn’t know how to jump in full stop.
When I tried to have fun with the kids, play games and use my favoured teaching style (guided discovery) they looked at me with blank expressions, silent to my enthusiasm, not wanting to have an underwater tea party or pretend to be pancakes.
They didn’t want to show me their rocket arms, because they knew how to do streamlined kicking and rocket arms were for babies.
These were 4 and 5 year olds who already had no joy in the water, who didn’t think swimming lessons were fun or even real lessons for that matter.
I took some of my more confident kids in to the ‘big pool’ for half of their lesson, to start.
The wheels completely fell off.
I had kids who were quite happy going under the water, doing handstands with a reasonably strong leg kick, and as soon as we were in water they couldn’t stand up in they fell apart.
Even worse, were the children who had appeared to be able to do it in the small pool, but without having the floor within tapping distance as a safety blanket went straight to the bottom.
I’ve never felt like a more irresponsible teacher, but then again, I’ve never had children who were so lazy, or rather so unaware of what their body needed to do in the water.
I told them to kick as hard as they could, to reach forward and to not stop until they touched the wall, barely a metre away, they were within touching distance if they stretched their arms and nearly every one of them sunk straight under as soon as I let go.
I had them in a kicking position, I’d given them a boost, there was nothing they needed to do other than have some self-belief and kick their fucking legs, but they’ve never been tested like that before.
They’ve gone through their whole swimming careers so far swimming in water they can stand up in. These children could swim reasonable freestyle and as soon as they were out of their depth they forgot everything they knew.
I remember in most of the other pools I’ve taught in at the end of the lessons we’d join up for games, or if I was teaching older kids, I’d plan the last 5 minutes of the lesson to accommodate for a potential influx of littlies.
There has always been movement, and the allowance of movement, it’s been something I’ve taken for granted and I’ve never thought of it as something I needed to communicate.
But here there was such a glaring problem with strength and stamina and technique that I’d been focused on fixing that before even starting to do the important safety and confidence stuff and I’d taken the fun out of teaching.
I certainly wasn’t enjoying myself, so I dread to think what the kids were feeling.
i love what i do, but i wasn’t loving it here.
I am proud of my teaching, I’m proud of the swimmers I help produce and I’m proud of the way they listen and trust me.
If I told my swimmers they could do something, they’d try. If I told them I’d catch them, they’d jump, they believed me when I said if I was there to help they’d be safe, no matter how deep the water was.
It frustrated me, and saddened me and made me angry that I didn’t feel that way any more and it was that week I knew I couldn’t teach with that swim school anymore.
I didn’t want to be part of a factory building competitive freestylers: I wanted to teach, I wanted my children to be confident, to thrive in the water.
Class movement and teacher movement around poolside was so stagnant, there was no communication between teachers and when the squads were taking up 3 lanes of the pool during lessons there was no space to move and test the children.
Perhaps it was selfish, but I didn’t want to be associated with that way of teaching.
I didn’t like the way I was teaching, I didn’t like the teacher I was becoming, I’d been thrown out of kilter slightly, but I wasn’t just fighting myself.
The whole framework of the levels needed restructuring, the teachers were by and large inexperienced and untrained. I wasn’t just trying to teach the children, I was trying to teach the teachers.
An example: a colleague had asked me to help with an assessment and before the kids got in, I’d joked that we’d have an advanced beginner and a breather, maybe breather 2.
They had the laminated level criteria in their hand and were looking down it as they took the younger child, step by step through what they needed to do for each level.
I asked my kid to swim one way on their front, one way on their back, asked them to do some handstands, show me their froggy legs if they new them, show me their dolphin wiggles then took them for a dive. I was done within 5 minutes, my colleague was still trying to get the other child in the water.
Afterwards they said to me that they wished they could do it as quickly as I could, that’s what they wanted to get to – they’d been with the swim school far longer than I had and they still couldn’t identify swimmers ability from a few laps.
In our training we were shown a video of a child from the swim school who was supposedly a ‘good swimmer’ demonstrating freestyle breathing.
Lewis and I immediately picked up on the fact she was doing a breaststroke kick every time she turned to breath because her freestyle kick wasn’t strong enough. We pointed it out to the training group and the person leading the training who watched the clip again and saw for the first time the breaststroke kick – this video had been used in training groups for over a year and it was the first time anyone had picked up on that.
at the end of the day, the children should be the priority, the reputation comes after.
Perhaps the hardest thing for me is knowing that sometimes, all of that won’t be enough; on a very personal note, I’m so passionate about all of this because I know tragedy can strike when you least expect it, the strongest swimmers can be caught out and it only takes a few seconds.
I wouldn’t say I’ve been put off teaching because of this experience.
It’s in my blood, I’ll never be able say goodbye to the pool, but I am definitely clearer about what I expect from a swim school.
I want to have the freedom to teach what needs to be taught for the kids to have an all round understanding of the water, not just enough to get them from a to b in the fastest time. I want to be able to correct technique and not worry it’s all going to be undone in the next level because the teachers don’t know what to look for and if they did don’t know how to correct it. I want a consistent assessment system, I don’t want to be part of a school that’s afraid to move children around if they’re in the wrong level because ‘it’s not a good look‘ if they move down.
For now, I’m saving my skills and experience for where I know they’ll be appreciated.
I will get back in the water, of course I will, but not in New Zealand.