What I Learned During the Pandemic
By Jessy Thompson
I have been a professional educator for over fifteen years. I teach Advanced Placement courses in both language and literature in addition to public speaking, media studies, and various other language arts related subjects. I have been a diving instructor since 2016 and a technical diving instructor since 2018. During my time as an educator, I have faced many challenges and have been in my share of debates about methodology, pedagogy, and best practice — in regard to both language arts and diving.
It goes without saying that nothing has impacted the way I teach and how students learn as much as the COVID-19 pandemic has. The manner in which I structure my lesson plans and connect with students in my day-to-day classroom and through diving has been turned upside down. In my English department, we decided that despite all of the problems and setbacks, we were going to embrace the moment as a real opportunity to revolutionize the way we teach. By default, the same thing began happening in my dive instruction as I scrambled to find ways to make anything work.
As I look back on the past eighteen months and prepare for my own upcoming season as a Great Lakes technical diving instructor, I have observed two critical ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has changed my teaching for the better that I would like to share.
I am definitely a fan of online learning. I think that allowing students to explore content at their own pace can provide greater flexibility in scheduling, better understanding, and a chance for more opportunities for more students. However, online learning does not replace the absolute necessity of student-teacher interaction. Whether it be through Zoom, Google Meet, or whatever platform is working best for you, students and teachers need authentic, real-time interaction in order to discuss, question, and explore topics.
During the pandemic, I found myself with more time on my hands than life usually allows for. As a result, I was more available for face-time conferences, remote classroom sessions, and the like. The information, theory, and practical application of skills I was able to walk students through proved to be invaluable and reminded me why I went into teaching in the first place. It really is about the relationship teachers can foster with students in order to help them achieve their goals. Online learning can set the stage, but cannot supplement or foster the type of confidence and attitude of inquiry that is fundamental to safe, skilled technical diving.
My personal philosophy is that technical diving students should seek out technical diving instructors who are executing the types of dives they wish to do. In addition to online learning, students need instructors explaining to them how a certain concept and procedure played out in a real scenario and in a real time and place. This type of instruction is imperative if a student is going to recognize not just the what and how, but also the why.
During the pandemic, I found myself with a gift of time. And through a better use of technology platforms, I was able to spend more time with students discussing all things diving. And although we were using what I consider to be an outstanding eLearning program, we still found ways to “meet” regularly and develop the relationships and mentorship necessary in technical diving.
Team Approach and Team Mindset
Second, I realized how important the team approach and team mindset is to technical diving and technical diving instruction. As guidelines for outdoor activities in my state allowed, I began diving with the same group of students on a weekly basis. Unlike a typical long or back-to-back weekend class, we were able to spread out our objectives and spend more time targeting specific areas for growth and performance. As my students completed their classes, we still found ourselves meeting regularly to dive and practice. We created a Facebook group, IG accounts, and a social media presence (even if not on a viral scale) intended to maintain a certain level of excitement and relevance for a sport easily forgotten during the peak of COVID-19.
Not only is this still continuing, but now that things are opening back up, I am seeing a significant influx of new students who have been anxiously awaiting their chance to get in on the action. Just like with my high school classes that graduate and fade into the next year’s class, too often students complete a technical diving course and are replaced by whoever is next in line. I am not criticizing the nature of this by any means, but I have realized that the stronger the technical diving community is in any particular area, the better the long-term viability and health of the industry is as a whole. The pandemic afforded me the opportunity to establish a technical diving presence in an area of a state that is not typically thought of as a hotbed for diving.
As I can see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, my hope is that I emerge a more thoughtful and deliberate instructor. Many studies report that the average educator lasts less than five years; it is often an even shorter career for the dive educator. The pandemic caused a lot of problems, but I am hopeful that the diving community will surface safely, even if it’s after a longer obligation than we wanted. For myself, I’ve been reminded of the importance of developing relationships and approaching technical diving with a team mindset. Just like in a traditional classroom, when we build the right types of relationships and team philosophy, there is buy-in, and a community emerges. And if there’s one thing every diver is dependent on, it’s having a local community of divers to learn from, grow with, and share in the adventure.
Please note: No practical skill application can be preformed via a remote education resource such as zoom, google meet, etc.