“May the wind be always at your back,” I would tell my daughter as she prepared for a cross country meet. On bike tours, my wife and I would delight when a friendly tail wind pushed our weary muscles along. In our canoes, we would strap a tarp to our paddles holding them up to catch the wind as we effortlessly soared down the length of the lake. It all made sense to me. It seemed a logical and sensible plan to always keep the wind at your back.
My novice ideas held up until I spent a week with friends sailing in Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. Turns out sailors prefer a cross wind to a tail wind. A tail wind will fill the sails and push the boat along in the direction of the blowing wind. With a sleek, efficient boat design able to minimize the drag of the vessel moving through the water, the boat might, in the best of circumstances, approach the speed of the wind – yet never be able to exceed the speed of the wind itself.
A cross wind blows across a billowing sail like the wind wraps around an airplane’s wing. The pressure differences resulting from the uneven speed of the wind creates the lift able to bear the plane high into the sky. On the water, the cross wind travels faster to go around the front billowed section of sail, thus creating a pressure difference resulting in the boat being pushed along at a pace that can easily transcend the speed of the wind.
One evening after dinner, we felt the awakening of a strong NE wind. We pulled anchor and set sail on a bearing perpendicular to the wind and soon found ourselves moving at a rapid pace out into the lake. What a joy it was to fly across the lake’s surface, setting a pace faster than the speed of the wind itself. An expert sailor knows his boat and reads the wind so he can best position the sails to move with surprising ease, speed, and grace.
A novice teacher armed with the sensibility to keep the wind at her back is able to successfully keep the classroom sails full, students happy, and moving along at a respectable, but bounded, pace. She feels a job well done. Things click along just as they should. Yet, an expert teacher is able to do far more. She can read beyond sensibility, and with her full bag of tools at her disposal, moves her students along at a pace unimaginable. It is at that point, that students and teacher alike are able to lose themselves through the deep immersion in transcendent learning. That is where I want to be – with the wind on my side, the energy of the students billowing the sails, and soaring cross the deep waters of learning.