Shari Walling’s passion for the water began when she was a kid.
By age 13, she was giving swimming lessons. That, she says, was when she knew she wanted to be a teacher. She liked being able to work with kids and see them reach different levels of accomplishment — progressing from non-swimmers to showing they could swim proficiently and safely.
She continues to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for aquatics with young people today. Walling splits her time as a seventh-grade physical education teacher at Summit Middle School in Johnston with being the aquatics director for the Johnston Community School District. She completed her 28th year of teaching in Johnston at the end of this past school year.
“I want to make sure that everyone enjoys the water, but first and foremost, to be safe in the water,” Walling says.
She is head coach for varsity girls and varsity boys swimming, and also coaches middle school boys and girls swimming. In 2013, Walling received the Golden Plaque of Distinction Award, which goes to the Iowa coach who has had a successful career and made notable contributions to school, community and the coaching profession. It is given by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
There are similarities and differences in her roles as a classroom teacher and coach.
In class, it’s about having students accept swimming as a way to stay fit, be healthy and have fun and learning technique and team building, she says.
There’s a wide range of swimming ability among students, which is a challenge, she says. And unlike other sports, there’s the fear of drowning.
“You have to be compassionate and really understanding that it’s a true concern or fear,” says Walling. To ease students’ anxiety, she works on gaining their trust and looks for new ways to teach things and make kids comfortable. Walling also teaches students to respect others’ ability and comfort levels.
As a coach, things are “more goal-oriented and competitive,” she says.
In both roles, she has to be a motivator to students. She also likes working with the children and particularly enjoys seeing kids progress from middle to high school.
“They just make my day,” she says.