The lifeguards and instructors explaining the rules on day one of the season's swimming lessons.
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It is not uncommon for the directors at the sports complex I work at to present requests without specifics, to ask me to do something without clear targets and no discussion of methods. A request to "help out" with the season's swimming classes was no exception to the long list of vague biddings put my way. I'd been reluctantly drawn in under the guise of, "helping hand", yet with a preferred role of observation for quality-control, but as expected, things didn't quite follow as planned. Thankfully however, the season's swimming lessons have now come to a welcomed end and many lies have been told to mothers about their children's progress and behavior.
During the lessons much project creep occurred, I gravitated towards the non-swimmers group, roughly aging from 4-6-years old, they varied between having a fear of water, laziness or delinquency. Between the four classes available I'd managed to collect roughly 6-students in each, all of which failed to keep up with the pace. These outcasts were a testing bunch with a non-existent attention-span, made no easier by the excitement of being in the water. Distractions were easily found or made, mostly fighting brought about by unintentional splashing or knocking, the escalation of which was always too rapid for me to attend to – these children seemed to not be unable to turn the other cheek, choosing to punch an eye where one was splashed. Their variation of inability was as difficult for me as my inability to communicate, this slowed progress as I catered to individual weaknesses while the rest of the class drifted of into fights. The distance between the wider groups' skills and my subdivision grew, I couldn't help but think I was part of the problem, my pandering to their individual weaknesses prolonged their learning. This became apparent when we moved to the bigger pool in the latter classes, any child that avoided entering the deep waters was thrown in by our group instructor – Uncle Abraheim – to which they seemed to make rapid progress. "Use your hands!", Uncle Abraheim would scream as they splashed about grabbing at anything available – their faces bright with horror before I plucked them out to safety.
The lessons were as much to my benefit as they were for the children, both with Farsi and with teaching techniques. I was both confused by the children's requests and protests as much as they seemed to be with mine. Unaware of more appropriate wording I knowingly constructed poor sentences and coupled them with animated gestures, "like this", I would indicate, "like that" and "not like this". "When your head is under water, breath" I erroneously instructed, unable to find the words to ask them to only breath out. "Put the air outside of you", I went on.
Children were being screamed at, whipped with string from whistles, thrown in the water or slapped aboutI was once again reminded of my soft English manner as I looked around the pool at other classes, struggling for clues. Children were being screamed at, whipped with string from whistles, thrown in the water or slapped about – scenes of children, quietly laughing as their class-mates took the harsh discipline. Although I struggled to digest these boot-camp like scenes I couldn't help but notice the effectiveness – certainly in comparison with my efforts. I toughened up, making a compromise between methods and ideology and it seemed to go some way in getting six pairs of eyes in my direction.
In an effort to increase the quality of service for our little customers, I had asked early on that I be replaced from this assumed role, explaining that my ability is not what is required. "Don't worry about it, they're kids, so long as they are not afraid of water it's OK", I was reassured – I can't help but think it wasn't only the children that had been thrown in at the deep-end.