I never really thought I’d be a teacher. But, this is my second semester as an adjunct English instructor for a local technical college. Last semester felt a little like drowning, and I was determined to have a better go of it this time around. Today I realized that part of my growth as a teacher has come directly from the things I’ve learned as a runner:
1. Experience Matters. Walking into class for the very first time was easily as nerve wracking as when I toed the start line of my first marathon. I had no idea what to expect, if I had hydrated properly (yes, for class, too!), if I was going to blow up after the halfway point, and generally if I would survive it all. Nowadays, even though there is no way to predict exactly how class or a race is going to go, I am not nearly as terrified because I’ve done it before. I can rely on having been in the scary last 10k of a marathon or in front of an unresponsive class before and making it through. Not without a few battle scars to show for it, though!
2. Be Prepared. Just like it’s a terrible idea to show up for a race without having trained, I definitely can’t roll into class without a lesson plan. My planning hours are just as precious to me as my hours spent logging miles. And just like I tweak my training over the course of a racing cycle in order to get faster and better, I have changed up the way I prepare for class over time. It’s not always the most fun thing to do, but I don’t really like track workouts either. It’s worth it though, to have a smooth running class period and a faster running race.
3. Dress the Part. I’m no fashionista, but the performance aspect of running and teaching have created something of an evolution in my clothes choices. I still aim for comfort above all else, but comfort with a purpose. I need to feel fast during a race, so I dress to inspire that feeling. I need to feel like a seasoned educator during class, so there too, I dress to evoke a capable persona. Of course, I’m usually still nervous before a races and class, but by wearing my running or teaching “costume” I can at least sort of fake it!
4. Participation is Key. I struggle with this one. I train mostly alone, and I’m wont to spiral into monologues during class. However, I see a real difference in my own running when I’m more involved with the Greenville Track Club or get to run with others. And of course, class is a lot more energetic and successful when I’ve got the students moving about and talking with each other. I have to really work on this, but I’m trying.
5. Roll With the Punches. If you’ve ever tried to follow a training schedule to the letter, then you know that is pretty much impossible. The same goes for following lesson plans– which is why I make sure to note that the schedule is tentative right on the syllabus! With running, there is always the possibility of injury, unexpected travel, feeling burned out, or prohibitive weather issues. In class, the students might be burned out, or just super uninterested in the material, or a seemingly great lesson plan fizzles out in practice. During all of these times, it’s important to be able to reassess the situation, change tactics if necessary, and most importantly, don’t give up! Things rarely go perfectly, but just keeping at it as best you can is often enough to get through both a rough training patch and a rough class day.
6. Setting Goals. I know what I expect from myself when it comes to running, and I extend that same level of expectation to my students. Having clear goals laid out at the beginning of a training cycle or new semester is so helpful when the inevitable rough patches hit (see #5). Then, even if you don’t exactly go straight from Point A to Point B, you at least know where Point B is, and know that you should end up there eventually. Goals are also built-in accountability managers. My students want to achieve their high grade, and I want to achieve a new PR. Goals are important, duh.
I still have a LOT of growing to do as a teacher– and as a runner! I do love that being a teacher means also being a student. I have learned so much from my students and other instructors/professors and I’ve gained a sense of accomplishment that is not unlike running. It takes hard work to do it right, but it’s so, so worth it when I cross a finish line with a new best time or know that I’ve made a positive impact on a student’s life.