This week’s guest post is from Sarah Frenette*, one of my dear friends and an amazing teacher educator.
During a recent family vacation to a granite island 15 miles off the coast of Maine, I sat on the cool gray stone of a retired quarry and pondered the leap that many novice teachers, veteran teachers and I will make in a few short weeks. We will dive in to a new school year filled with promises of challenges, struggles, rewards and accomplishments.
My 9 year-old son, Max, made a leap from the edge of the granite cliff that reminded me of the first time I dove in and all of the leaps that followed. This quickly led my thoughts to the dozens of teachers that I have had the pleasure of mentoring as they prepare for their first leap, and all those that follow.
Max inched his way up to the edge of the granite cliff, pudgy toes curled over the farthest point. He looked down at the fresh crisp water holding memories of countless hours frolicking with family and friends. The water looked different from this vantage point 15 feet above the surface. He observed as swimmers of all ages propelled from the cliff into the water below. Some curled their toes over the edge and hopped off with eyes squeezed tight, some got a running start and flew through the air, others did a twirl or a “Triple Lindy”. Some of the cliff divers landed in the water and barely made a ripple while others produced quite a splash. Each bubbled back up to the surface with a triumphant smile eager to scale the cool gray rocks and do it again.
Max asked questions of these more experienced divers: Should he get a running start or begin at the cliff’s edge? Should he jump feet first or head first? How deep was the water? Eventually the moment came when he was ready to take the plunge. He had all of the information available that could be gleaned from observing and discussing. It was time to do!
Max backed up about 10 feet, ran to the edge and took a leap of faith with eyes wide open. He landed feet first, cutting through the surface of the water as thousands had before him. He returned to the surface moments later with pride in his eyes, ready to go back for more.
Over several days, Max leaped at least one hundred times. His technique improved with practice, careful observation and pointers from the other brave souls who dared to jump. Max even shepherded a few newcomers as they prepared for their first cliff dive. Sometimes Max made a ripple and other times he made a huge splash. Some of his moves were showy and others were basic. Occasionally, he flopped. He couldn’t get enough, going back again and again for the invigorating plunge through the air into the seemingly bottomless water below.
The experience of this novice jumper remind me of my own time in the classroom. I was fortunate to have many mentors including college professors, peers, colleagues, administrators and students. I observed, practiced and got lots of pointers. My moves improved with time. I made big splashes and little ripples, and occasionally flopped. None of this could have happened if I didn’t take a deep breath, run to the edge of the cliff and leap in with eyes wide open. I leaped day after day, year after year.
As August approaches, teachers young and old are preparing to take the plunge. They are designing learning spaces, reading up on new curriculum, standards and methodology, reflecting on their practice, crafting lesson and unit plans. They are stretching their muscles, reflecting on their technique and the techniques of others, testing the waters, measuring the wind speed and getting ready to soar off the cliff into the crisp invigorating water below.
My hope is that teachers new to the profession (like my former students from Mount Holyoke and Hampshire Colleges) leap with eyes wide open. Do not fear making a big splash!!! The water will keep you refreshed and afloat, and your colleagues and mentors will gladly show you a few moves along the way!!
To all you cliff divers out there, enjoy the plunge!!!
*Sarah Frenette is an early childhood educator. She currently serves as Director of Early Childhood and Elementary Programs at Mount Holyoke College. She takes pride in advising students that aspire to teach learners of all ages, and teaches courses in literacy, inclusion and curriculum design. Sarah learns something new about teaching, learning and herself each day. Her days are filled with thinking about teaching other people’s children, mentoring pre-service and in-service teachers and raising her own two boys.