August 31st — one day before the “official” start of the teachers’ school year. I am doing something very different today. My goal is to have three meals out on my “veranda”, walk with a friend, and not go into school. So, I sit here on a purple plastic Adirondack chair and ottoman, shaded by my twin Red Maples, watching Kyla bark at the chirping red squirrels and write. This is not an approach that I have tried before, taking the day before school starts “off”. It feels strange actually. I feel that nervous energy building. This is my “tapering” off period before the big race begins. Before, only tried before when I used to be a competitive runner. It worked pretty well then, so I thought I would try it in a different light, to taper before teaching.
Back in the day when I use to run track, cross-country, and then road races, the day before a big race is traditionally a pretty light day. Some stretching, maybe a very light jog, a few windsprints, and early to bed. After some hard training, you want to give your legs a break, so they will be ready to react to the starter’s gun. You wanted to feel antsy at that gun, not so tired that you couldn’t envision running 800 meters, 5K 0r 10 miles. You needed that day to let your muscle fibers heal up a bit. I remember back in 1982 when I was running between 55 to 70 miles a week, that this “off day” felt very strange. Your body was at loose ends, use to the high mileage, but “forced” to run maybe only two to three miles. You wanted to go further, but knew that in your best interest for the race tomorrow, that you should not. So, here I sit on this lilac chair, wanting to go in and put up that last piece of bulletin board border, wanting to futz around with my opening day challenge, but knowing I should not step foot in the door today. I did my “light” training, running (rather driving) to Staples to pick up a few last things and then over to the Natural Resources office to pick up my Conservation Land Use Permit. I finished reading Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire, worked a tad on my graduate class that I teach, and basically soaked in as much natural Vitamin D that I could stand. Just like the day before a race, when I use to envision what that race may look like, I did the same analysis of my school year.
First and foremost on my mind is that I am looping with 21 out of my 22 students from last year. Back a few moons ago, I have been a looping teacher before. I went from being a 4th grade teacher, taking 12 students with me in a 4/5 combination. The following year, I took 11 out of 12 4th graders in that combo class, and became a 5th grade teacher again. While a good percentage went forward, 21/22 is a really high percentage. These students know my tricks. They totally will know what I expect from them, but they know my tricks. I totally need to switch up my beginning of the school year activities. I agonized over my letter to them. Always before, they received a bag of sand. But I didn’t want to repeat that this year. I needed to switch my race strategy. I’ll let you know how this switch turned out after our first week. This reminded me of when I was a 800 runner in high school. I liked to take it out from the gun. This strategy went well, I was undefeated heading into our last dual meet. Didn’t work so well at that meet, I was caught by another runner, ending my quest for an undefeated season. With the League Championship a week away, I needed to change my strategy. And for that race, coming off the final turn behind the runner who had just beat me a week earlier, I was able to sprint by her, winning the Midland League Championship.
I thought back to another race, the Yankee Homecoming 10-Miler in Newburyport in 1982. I went out extremely hard,
going through two miles in 12 minutes and 36 seconds. Then my legs “fell asleep” (this resulted in my having surgery 4 times in the ensuing years). Around 7 miles into the race, they came back to normal again, and I finished in a very respectable time of 68 minutes 2 seconds. So, how do I start this long race (180 days to be exact plus weekends for me) on the 6th. Do I go out hard? Do I go out steadily? Do I go out slowly? I have two new students to add to the 21 students, so I probably need to go out a tad slower than full speed ahead. In a long race, you certainly don’t want to crash and burn during the first two months. How do I maintain some semblance of an exercise program, of some down time with family?
Then there’s the challenge of your other competitors. In my teaching case, the challenge is to be a learner along with your students. What direction will they push me this year? (and that is in totally a good way!) What new things will light my fire this year? The best projects are usually those that are not totally planned out. My “pre-race” guess is that the students will want to take another crack at DPC this year. I’m a bit worried about that as I don’t want it to be a “forced” project. I want it to be just as exciting a process as it was last year. So parts of the race are somewhat worrisome to me. This is like when you don’t know the race course. You’re not quite sure where the hills are, where the turns are. To me, teaching is like this as well, you are never quite sure until you actually get going. Even when you get going, there are obstacles along the way. I have a new learning space to “learn,” new curriculum, several new students, and even those returning students have grown over the summer. Just like the day before a race, my mind races with the possibilities.
13 years into this “race”, and the same insecurities exist the day before. This is not a race that seems to get any easier as the years go by. But one thing that still exists is the excitement of getting started, the excitement of watching my students grow, the excitement of learning along with them. It is that excitement that gets me over that steep hill, that keeps me hanging on to the finish line. I’m ready and raring to go.