The sun was beating down on me as I fought to reel in a five-foot barracuda. My boys, ages eleven and nine were offering words of encouragement as the seesaw battle between the fish and me continued. Finally, in a last ditch effort, the barracuda jumped out of the water and spit out the hook leaving very little of the three-pound mackerel that had moments ago been used as bait. The twenty-minute fight had abruptly ended with a victory for the barracuda. Long ago I had been told that fish don’t get big by being stupid and I knew this fish would be even bigger next time I had a crack at it.

My boys and I were spending the day fishing in the ocean as we do every summer. Captain Green was busy taking bonnet head sharks, jacks, redfish, barracuda, and sea trout’s off the hook as we enjoyed another fruitful outing in the Gulf of Mexico. I have been fishing in the Gulf for the past thirty-four years and that is why I was shocked when I realized I was rapidly sinking beneath the ocean’s surface. Bewilderment had overcome my body as I tried getting my bearings. Always the principal, my experience of being “man overboard” helped me see similarities to my predicament and to teaching.

Just because you have done something for a long time doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes or you are doing it correctly. Standing on the edge of the bow of the boat was simply stupid and I had gotten away with it too many times in the past. It only took a small wave to send me in the water. As a teacher, it is easy to be lulled into thinking you don’t have to spend time planning, reviewing class rules, collaborating with others, checking students’ understanding and all of the other aspects of teaching that successful teachers consistently do.

Recognize a sense of urgency. Being a fairly strong swimmer, I made my way to the boat in a few short strokes and raised my arms to grasp it. I wanted to get out of the water as quickly as possible! Only moments before, I had lost a battle with the barracuda and had also been looking in amazement with my boys at the bonnet head sharks that had been swimming by the boat. Also, the large jellyfish floating nearby offered great incentive to get out of the water. Currently, educators are taking a lot of heat in the media as news stories appear spreading the message that our children are no longer able to compete against children in other countries. Dismal test scores and routinely identified “failing schools” have citizens and business leaders outraged. The outrage has brought sweeping reforms calling for more charter schools, the end of tenure, and having teacher pay be linked to student performance. Teachers need to feel a sense of urgency and take appropriate actions. We are in exciting times in the field of education and must move quickly to prepare our children with an opportunity to receive an outstanding education. If we fail to act, the reins will be taken by for profit companies or by state government’s.

Don’t panic and never let others see you panic. As frightened as I was, panicking would have made my situation worse. When my oldest son came to the side of the boat, I calmly told him I was fine and told him to move out of the captain’s way. Not every lesson in a classroom is going to go as planned. Teachers need not panic. Reflect on why the lesson was not successful and consider what should be done differently next time to help the children grasp the concept being taught. Teachers need to be flexible and resist forcing a lesson that is not going as planned. More damage is done out of panicking and forcing an unsuccessful lesson. Not all children are eager to learn and nor will they always behave as a teacher would prefer. There are children that actually enjoy seeing a teacher frustrated and will do their best to help make the class chaotic. Children play off the actions of the teacher and by remaining calm, flexible, and showing a sense of humor, a teacher is able to diffuse most situations.

Don’t have such a large ego that you can’t ask for help. As the captain made his way to where I was clinging to, I asked him how was I going to get in the boat. Several attempts of pulling myself out of the water did nothing more than zap energy. The captain explained clearly what I needed to do and had me relax. He then helped raise me out of the water to safety. Teaching is a challenging profession and cannot be done in isolation. It is important that teachers willingly collaborate and take suggestions from others. Doing so provides them an opportunity to have a greater impact on helping children succeed.

We live in an age where accountability is the mantra yet nobody seems to accept his or her own responsibility. The captain was not responsible for my fall into the ocean. The captain and I had fished numerous trips in the past and he was busy at the time assisting my youngest son. Teachers are not responsible for everything. Let me be clear, teachers have a responsibility to behave in a professional manner, be prepared, be knowledgeable in content, and effectively deliver instruction making sure they do their best to meet the needs of each child in their class. However, blaming teachers for all of society’s ills has become a sport. Teachers alone cannot repair the problems that parents, politicians and society has failed to solve or to have even bothered to address. It is easier to make teachers the scapegoat than to assume personal responsibility.

Have a sense of humor. Once I was safe and assured my boys I was ok I began to laugh about my mishap. While teaching is one of the most rewarding professions it is also very stressful. Teaching without having a sense of humor is a recipe for burnout.

Always back up important information. I had a bad feeling when I reached into my soggy pocket to retrieve my phone. The feeling was confirmed when the phone failed to work. It was fried, along with all the information I relied upon on a daily basis. When a principal wants to see a student’s test to explain the grade to a parent, have a copy available. Maintain copies of documents that provide evidence. It is much easier having a difficult conversation when evidence is available.

Having fallen overboard, I knew it was important that I showed my boys and myself that a mishap should not prevent me or anyone from continuing doing what one enjoys. We booked another trip a week later and while we didn’t catch quite as much, we all remained dry. I am an educator and enjoy learning, especially from my mistakes.