The Letting Go

I can’t swim. I mean, if you threw me into a pool or a pond or some other mostly still water, I would not sink. I would even make some sort of motion that looks similar to swimming. I would be horizontal to the earth and I would kick my legs and my arms would reach over my head.

But to call what I do swimming would be akin to calling what Dan Brown does writing (easy shot there, I know). All the main elements are there. A person might not at first even notice the difference between the real thing and the facsimile. But the minute a passerby actually examines my movements, that passerby will notice that this is not the real thing. And, should I be asked to swim any distance longer than say, fifty yards, I would drown.

I should maybe tell you that I’m not Black. This is a running joke, I guess, that Black people don’t know how to swim. I know this from listening to stand-up comedians. It’s supposed to be because Black people grow-up without access to water, pools or lakes or otherwise. Okay. I guess that’s a joke.

Anyway, the kind of swimming I can manage is entirely based on me watching other people and then trying to do what they do. This is why, at first glance, it may well appear that I am swimming.

Just like when I first started teaching College Composition, at the grand old age of 24, it probably looked like I was teaching. A passerby might have seen me in front of my class, gesturing wildly and scrawling across the board, and assumed that I was teaching. I assure you, I was not. I was performing. I was entertaining (sometimes, and mostly by accident). I was lecturing.

I was not teaching.

All of the above can be pieces of teaching, and I think they are the most effective means of teaching certain kinds of classes. But to really teach Composition, to effectively convey how to successfully compose, requires a lot less of me talking at my students and a lot more of my students doing the work.

If a person wanted to learn more about Jazz, they could take a lecture course on Jazz and learn more about it. But could a person who wanted to play Jazz sit in a lecture course and walk away sounding like Miles Davis?

How absurd would it be to hold basketball practices where no one every picked-up a ball?

These are, in many ways, faulty analogies, but there is something to be said about learning-by-doing, especially when the end goal is creation, rather than recitation.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if my students are to be the ones trying to execute the song or the play, then maybe I need to spend a little less time playing for them, and give them a little more time to play on their own.

But I don’t like losing control. Uncertainty makes me incredibly anxious. Ask any of my friends (or former boyfriends).

Uncertainty is also what I hate most about being in water. In the water, a person must allow for drift. A person must be okay with imprecise placement. A person must hand themselves over to the elements, even if in some small way.

The more I understand about teaching, the more I understand that those who allow students more control, those who drift, are the ones who reach greatness.

I don’t want to be a good teacher. I want to be a great one. I think my need for control holds me back.

The last time I entered any form of water, despite being encased in as many floatation devices as possible, I spent pretty much the entire time holding onto a boat deck.

After a full hour of lecturing during my first semester of teaching, I remember walking back to my cubicle, throwing my feet up onto my desk, and declaring that I had just “rocked that class.”

But of course, I shouldn’t have been the one who rocked—my students should have been.

For them to do this, I will have to learn to drift. To drift, I will have to let go.


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