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.