Things You Realize at 65ft. Deep


How long has it been since you were a novice at something? For me it’s been 1 year. In May of 2017, I decided I wanted to be SCUBA certified. The first day of class, I started to see a lot of parallels between learning to dive and learning a language. As I’m preparing to go back into the classroom in August, this has been on my mind. What does it feel like to be a novice?

In Open Water class, there was so much to remember. Breathe… clear your mask… take off and put on your mask in the water… navigate with a compass… don’t go down too fast… don’t go up too fast… neutral buoyancy. It’s pretty overwhelming! But the instructors were there every step of the way (even holding your… my… hand if you need it… once) and trying to make sure you want to come back for more training.

At the end of the course, I went diving in Panamá and in the Galápagos and they were such different experiences. In Panamá, my guide didn’t treat me like a novice. He expected me to know how to do… well, everything. In Galápagos, the guide treated us like novices for sure. He used a reel with a line and had us hold on so we didn’t get separated from him. See what I’m thinking? I could be either guide for my students. One left me feeling panicked during the dive (high affective filter if that applies to diving) and the other made it so relaxing I really got to enjoy the creatures I saw!


The Galápagos dive made me hungry for more training. I felt very Novice Mid and wanted to be more confident in the water. When I enrolled in the Advanced Open Water course, I thought that “Advanced” sounded a little terrifying but I found that it should be called Novice High transitioning to Intermediate Low Open Water! There was so much happening in my head all the time, I couldn’t multi task well, I felt like I was falling apart and then I’d have a burst of getting it all together.


We did a buoyancy dive to help streamline us and make diving less strenuous, a wreck dive to check out a submerged 747 and railroad car, a navigation dive, a boat dive, and a deep dive.  It was on this deep dive, standing 3-4 minutes on the platform 65 feet deep in 45 degree water, waiting for my turn to ascend, that I started thinking about how my novices must feel.

It was a dark, murky green in the quarry. The dive instructors were using dive lights and it looked like a scene from every underwater horror movie you’ve ever seen. I was freezing cold, my hood and gloves were making me feel claustrophobic. I needed to remember to go up slowly, to keep just the right buoyancy, to keep my ears clear… and right then I realized I was actually crossing over into Intermediate learner territory. I wasn’t getting it all right and I still needed help from my guide but I was suddenly able to manage a lot of the little pieces in my head… at once! I could check my computer, check my pressure, and ascend at the right pace.


So I did it! I finished the deep dive and I felt great! It wasn’t comfortable and I couldn’t do it alone but with repeated exposure I know I could. And better still… it made me want to do more specialty certifications. Isn’t that how we want our students to leave our class? With a hunger for the next accomplishment.


So now I’m an Advanced Open Water Diver and I’m going to take what I’ve learned and go back into the classroom. I want to honor the fact that my students at level 1 and 2 have a lot of things banging around in their heads and may only be able to address one at a time… that they may be great at one skill (I’m awesome at fish identification!) and not so hot at another (navigation). They may may need me to hold their hand or may want to try things on their own… and may even start on their own and then get hopelessly lost and have to ask me to save them (this only happened twice).  And even at level 3 and 4, when they are able to juggle more than one skill at a time, they still need my patient guidance to stay hungry to learn more.

As we head back to school, let’s dive in to language but don’t go too deep too fast! Be their guide and their inspiration to continue diving deeper.

Author: senoracmt

I began teaching Spanish in Illinois in 1994. I have taught levels 1-4 in a small rural high school, 8th grade introductory Spanish, Biology 1, and 101 and 102 at the community college level. My Spanish classes are partnered with the community college to offer students 8 semester hours of dual credit on completion of Spanish 4. In 2011 I met Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido and have since co-authored the book "La hija del sastre" with Carol Gaab and authored the novels "La Calaca Alegre", "Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos." "Vector," "48 horas" and "Bananas" through Fluency Matters. In 2006 I became National Board certified and I have been serving as a mentor both for candidates seeking certification in world languages other than English and a virtual mentor for candidates in all certificate areas. I completed my Masters degree in Spanish education in 2011 and did my research on the use of Understanding by Design to create meaningful cultural units for the language classroom. I am a frequent presenter on this topic, please consider me if you are interested in a workshop on backward design. In 2013 I was named the ICTFL Foreign Language teacher of the year and in 2014 I was selected as CSCTFL's teacher of the year. In November of 2014 I was lucky enough to be one of the five finalists for the ACTFL National Teacher of the Year in San Antonio, TX. What a "Cinderella" experience! You can reach me via email at senoracmt at

5 thoughts

      1. I am missing ACTFL for the first time in 5 years to do TFLTA instead, but I hope to be at both Central States and ACTFL in 2019!

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