What Spearfishing Taught Me About Teaching And Life

Jun 28, 2021

This past weekend I went spearfishing in the Florida Keys. For the first time in my life, I hunted fish with a spear while bull and hammerhead sharks roamed the water behind me waiting to get my fish. I’m serious, I did this! And it was an adventure. I mean I literally watched a hammerhead cut this tarpon in half a few hundred feet from where I was hunting. And like always, you don’t get through an adventure like this without learning something. Here’s what I learned about teaching and life after a couple days of spearfishing in shark infested waters

Listen to fear, but don't let it control you.

When you spear a fish, you have to try to get it out of the water as quickly as possible, because sharks can sense the vibrations and smell blood in the water. This causes a certain degree of fear. Now most people feel this fear and make the decision to not go spearfishing. That is a totally reasonable idea. However, I wanted adventure and fish for dinner, and I’d get neither if I let my fear keep me in the boat. 

Now, I still listened to this fear, and allowed it to inform my actions. When sharks started showing up, we moved to a new location. When I cut my finger, I stopped the bleeding before hopping back in. But fear did not stop me. 

What is keeping you in “the boat?” What is trying to stop you from trying something new, taking a risk? It doesn’t have to be something wild like spearfishing, but what is controlling you rather than informing you? A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to teach at a new school that was doing some amazing things. I was already at a school, and while I was no longer really thriving there, I was comfortable. I knew what I had to do to be successful, so moving to this new place was a risk. Yet I knew it was the best thing for me.

So with encouragement from friends and family, I stepped into this unfamiliar space, and it was the best decision I could have ever made for my teaching career. Bravery does not mean not feeling any fear. It means not allowing fear to have the final word.  Sharks might be scary, at least until you understand how to be around them, but fresh fish is delicious.

Patience is required to get the big fish.

Where I was spearfishing, there were tons of fish, but most of them were tiny. The big ones, the kind we were after, were more elusive and scarce. And this scarcity made me a little trigger-happy, too often launching my spear before I was ready. More often than not, I came up empty handed. I had to learn patience. There are certain things you can do that work if you just give it time.

In teaching, we call these ‘best practices.” Sometimes the methods we know work don’t work right away. And this is frustrating because we want instant gratification. But life rarely works that way. How many times have you worked with a student and nothing seems to click- until finally it does? I mean, it sometimes takes years before I find out what effect my teaching had on a student. We have to learn best practices, and then develop patience.

Sometimes the best adventures hurt a little.

I came home from this trip a little beat up. I cut my hand, got scraped up, and felt sore in places I’d never felt sore before. Because speared fish alert sharks, I found myself diving over mangroves and jamming my hands into fire coral to grab the fish and get them out of the water as soon as I could. Honestly, it hurt. But good adventures often do. Of course playing it safe might feel better at the time, but it doesn’t always create the best memories or the most meaningful ones.

I want my students to learn to take risks. Not ones that risk life and limb, but the kind that grow and stretch them. I want them to speak up in class, stand up to bullies, go against grain, develop confidence because they took risks and discovered that they were worth taking. Of course failing is part of the equation, but failing always leads to growth if we allow it. But you can only fail if you take a risk.

Vacation is good for the soul.

Last but not least, I was reminded this week that vacation is good for the soul. Whether it’s an adventurous vacation or a few days of not checking your email, there is something so rejuvenating about taking a break from your work. This takes discipline for me to not respond to emails or grade papers or write new articles or whatever it is I normally do. But this departure from reality helps refill my cup, which then allows me to overflow to others.

This past year has been a challenge and I needed a break. And although all of these voices in my head tried to tell me I shouldn’t take a vacation, that I should feel guilty about not doing enough work last week, that I am not worthy of a break, I chose not to listen to them.

Instead, I learned how to spear fish, battle sharks, hold my breath for a really long time, and experience an adventure.


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