I went skydiving on Sunday, jumping out of a perfectly fine, albeit tiny, aircraft strapped to an experienced skydiver. The two of us had met about thirty minutes before takeoff. As the doors shut and the plane started ascending, he made small talk to put me at ease. Between nerves, the rushing sound of flight, and the fact that he was tightening a number of straps that brought the two of us extremely close to one another, I was having difficulty keeping up the thread of conversation.
Under optimal conditions, I can struggle with small talk. Trying to keep up with conversation in the thick of all that was practically impossible. Then he asked me about my job. My job. Under optimal conditions, explaining my job isn’t easy. I can’t just say “elementary teacher” because people envision a room of twenty kids or so in their desks. I can’t say “special education teacher” because people envision a classroom on the other end of the spectrum that is special education. We’d be on the ground before I could adequately say what my job really was, before I could make him envision what I actually do.
Luckily for me, before I could answer the doors opened and we were greeted by a freezing rush of air that took my breath away. The two of us scooted toward the opening, our feet dangling in open sky as he shouted last second directions about what to do with my feet, hands and head as we prepared to hurtle toward the ground.
I could tell you about the exhilaration of falling in a crisp blue sky. I could tell you about the jerk you feel as the parachute opens. I could tell you about how you then leisurely glide over the landscape until all of a sudden, the person behind you (who you totally forgot was strapped to you) tells you to raise your legs so you have them in the right position for landing. I could tell you about how you want to throw up when you land, then how you want to catch the next flight up. I could tell you all that and still wouldn’t have the words to really make you understand. They tell you to get photos or video of the experience because you’d be at a loss for words when trying to describe what it felt like. It’s similar to how small talk can’t really create a picture of what my job really is.
Reflecting more on it today at work, I realized that skydiving and my job have a lot more in common than one may think. Doing a tandem skydive and teaching both require preparation, expertise, awesomeness and a little bit of craziness. Parachutes have to be packed, lessons have to be planned. Planes have to be fueled; materials have to be prepared. There’s plenty to know in order to make it to the ground safely from a plane, just like there’s plenty to know in order to take students in the direction they need to go. There’s awesomeness in plunging from a plane just as there’s awesomeness in working with children. Then there’s the little bit of craziness. Jumping from a perfectly good plane takes a little bit of crazy, just like teaching does. Skydiving and my job have a lot more in common than one may think.
So if I could go back to that conversation, I’d know what to tell him. My job? It’s a lot like yours I’d tell him. My job? It’s a lot like jumping out of a plane. And I love it. And I’ll do both again and again and again (even if sometimes all I want to do is throw up.)