I’m a runner. Yes, that’s right, I’m one of those crazy people who willingly lace up their trainers and head out to plod around their neighbourhood streets dressed in neon lycra. I’m still something of a newbie to the running world, having only started earlier this year… but everyone has to start somewhere, and it genuinely brings me joy.
I ran a 5k race a few weeks back, and it really got me thinking… running is kind of like teaching. Or maybe the other way round. Think I’m crazy? Here’s why…
It clears the mind
One of the reasons I love running is that it clears the mind. I find it difficult to think about
anything other than running when I’m out – I’m completely absorbed in the process. Teaching’s much the same for me; it never fails to amaze me that no matter how bad a day I’m having or whatever else is going on in my life, once I’m in front of a class, all of that disappears (for the duration of the lesson at least). Teaching (and running!) both make me focus on the Now, which is increasingly important in today’s hectic world.
You have to put one foot in front of the other – but remember the end goal too
When you’re running, at the end of the day all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forwards. However, it’s also wise to remember how far you have to go; you need to pace yourself to be able to keep going for the whole distance, or at least so you’ve got enough energy to get back home again! While you don’t necessarily have to pace yourself in quite the same way for teaching, you still need to keep in mind the end of the lesson. Where are you headed? Are your students going to be able to achieve the lesson aims? If it seems like you’re going off track, slow down, review, or change where you’re headed.
Sometimes you just don’t want to
I don’t always want to go for a run – I’m tired, or I’m not in the mood, or I can just think of a million and one things I’d rather do. I don’t always want to teach either! What I have learned, though, is that the lessons (and runs) I am dreading are rarely as bad as I think they’ll be… and some of the days I haven’t wanted to teach have ended up reminding me why I fell in love with this profession all over again.
You might feel like a fraud at the beginning
It’s taken quite a few months for me to accept that I can call myself ‘a runner’, that no one’s going to laugh at me or quiz me relentlessly about my running habits and then tell me I’m too slow/don’t run often enough/am not a ‘real runner’. In the same way, it’s not uncommon to question whether or not you’re ‘a real teacher’ when you first start out (you can find my blog post on the topic here). The fact is, though, at the end of the day, you’re the one who calls the shots. If you run, you’re a runner. If you teach, you’re a teacher.
You will get through it, even when you think you can’t
I think every teacher has been there: that horrible moment in class when nothing is going right and the thought flashes across your mind: ‘I can’t carry on’. Much as you might envisage yourself running out of the classroom and not returning, when the fear strikes all you really can do is stop, breathe, and then carry on. In both the classroom and on the road or trail, you will survive, even when it seems impossible.
Sometimes the rewards and the challenges aren’t what you think they’ll be
When I ran my first 5k race, I questioned whether or not I’d be able to run the distance. Would I trip over, or fall awkwardly and hurt my ankle? I figured that my goal was to successfully run all 5k, and to finish in as short a time as possible. What I didn’t factor in was my hatred of crowds; a fear I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I finished my race, without tripping or falling, but I walked a fair amount of it and was painfully slow to finish – I failed to achieve my goal, right? Well, no, not really… it turns out that the reward of running that race was facing my fear of being caught in the middle of a large group of people… and persevering despite the discomfort. Not what I anticipated, but probably an even greater reward. I’ve had classes like that too: where I’ve thought the outcome would be one thing, but the students’ real achievement turned out to be something else. Here’s what I’ve learned: things no going as I expect doesn’t always have to be a bad thing… and often what I’ve got instead has turned out to be more valuable than the thing I thought I wanted.
What would you compare teaching to? Why?