Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Teaching is like running a marathon

Speaking of teaching, I came into school today to find this in my mailbox:

It's a flier that advertises pre-made, movie-based lesson plans for teachers to buy and use when they need a break.  Stressed out from teaching?  Pop in a movie and relax!   While watching thousands of sweating, cursing, defatigable runners in the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon, Judy Sugarman thought to herself, "huh, teaching is kind of like this."  Nevermind that she has probably never run a marathon herself; a marketing tagline was born.

"Once the race begins (and some of us would call it a rat race), we don't have time to catch our breath... You have little or no time for yourself and your family."

Having run 9 marathons and with a few years of teaching under my belt, it got me thinking how alike the two activities actually are.  Training for a marathon can be physically exhausting, naturally, which coupled with the loss of one's free time, can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion.  One will certainly find the latter in teaching, but I wouldn't call it physically demanding.

During marathon training, you have an out.  Don't like it?  Hurt yourself?  Can't deal?  Drop out.  You will suffer a bruised ego and maybe lose money if you've already registered, but that's about it.  Quitting a job or profession is much harder.  Don't like it?  Oh well, any number of circumstances may prevent you from moving on.

Marathon training, and the marathon itself, are singular activities.  But teaching is a community of influences and annoyances and rewards and incentives from the size of my classroom to the entire nation.  How well I run my marathon may not determine the fate of America, though some politicians will make the same comparisons with my teaching, my school and my coworkers.

Perhaps it would have been more apt to say "teaching is like training for a marathon." Because it's in the training period when dedication and obsession bleed into other areas of life and threaten to take over.  That's kind of how I felt last Monday.

Marathon training.  Teaching.  In the end they are both long roads with excruciating highs and lows, where reward is neither a right nor a certainty, and shortcuts only making it longer.

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