I’m running a marathon today. At some point, months ago, my little brother and I thought this was a great idea. As the training miles (and skipped training sessions) piled up, my evaluation of the idea decayed. By the final weeks of training, I found myself repeatedly saying to Crystal, “Honey, if I ever talk about wanting to run a marathon again, please kick me.”
But ultimately, I am glad* to have taken on this “hard thing,” and that gladness is mostly due to what the marathon training process has taught me about teaching and life. (Remember, my aim is the development of an integrated life, where my life teaches me about teaching, and teaching teaches me about life. I think this integration is key to a flourishing life.)
*Disclaimer: I’m writing this prior to putting 26.2 miles of punishment into my body and mind.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the marathon training process:
I’m still far too concerned with how I appear in public. One reason I write and think about humility is because I admire people who are humble; they are my favorite kind of heroes, unhindered by worries of how others might be perceiving them. Another reason is I know how cozy I am with pride. I don’t wish to appear foolish or weak or unprepared in public, and this marathon today may require all three of those things from me. It has been good for me to have to deal with those worries and lay them to rest.
When I teach, I must also not be obsessed with how I look, how my students perceive me. My obsession must be how they are learning, how I am stewarding the time I have with them, etc. Any mental energy consumed by thoughts of me is energy that cannot be applied to thoughts of them.
It is good to practice satisficing. One reason I’m worried about the race today is because I didn’t follow my training plan very well. Running four days per week for months on end did not play nicely with my responsibilities as a husband, father, teacher, and writer. And that time pressure forced me to have to satisfice — sacrifice top quality for satisfactory quality — marathon training so that I could put my best efforts into the aforementioned tasks of higher importance.
As I wrestle with satisficing personally, I’m better able to help my students satisfice. One of the chief things I try to teach my ninth graders is how to manage a high school workload. Inevitably, part of that management means learning when and where to satisfice. In a pinch, it is better to turn in work that receives some credit than not turning work in at all.
It is good to challenge our bodies. When I wrote my book or planned my first speaking engagements, these were “hard things” for me — but the challenge was all psychological and intellectual. With this marathon, no amount of “Jedi mind tricks” can change the fact that seemingly random parts of my body start hurting once I put in 10 miles. In this race, I will just have to be there, for about 4.5 hours, handling whatever bodily problems I’m presented with. Of course, there won’t be a ton that I’ll be able to do to solve those problems, so in large part I’ll just need to find a way to make peace with them until I cross the finish line and get to hug my family. Again, I think this is all good because it presents me with a chance for gaining insight that psychological or intellectual challenges can’t.
In the classroom, this process of experiencing weakness through this marathon gives me greater compassion for students who struggle with things that I don’t. No matter how hard I study world history or literature at this point in my life, I can’t feel how some of my students feel when I ask them to work hard at their studies in my classes. I have years of experience studying my subjects, and I’ve always enjoyed studying these things. I’m naturally interested in literacy and history and character, but some of my students aren’t.
And those, my friends, are the reasons that I think this whole process, this “hard thing” for the 2016-2017 school year, has made me a bit of a better teacher. In what ways have you experienced similar benefits from doing hard things?