Becoming Classroom Fit

So, I’m getting back into running after about a decade off. I picked up the sport while in college; to keep me in shape for playing on the university’s soccer team. I really fell in love with just about every aspect of running and kept with it after my soccer playing days were over. And then life took over. I got married and started a family. This caused a shift in my priorities and running took a back seat to family. Now, my kids are older and I find myself with a little bit of time to pick up the sport again. I’m super excited about it all and find myself having to temper my enthusiasm as I want to jump right back into races. But, I’m finding myself just a tad bit slower than I was in my early to mid twenties…Anywho, that’s not the point. 

This is the point:

Today, while running, I listened to a podcast, via Nike Running Club, where Shalane Flanagan spoke on her career as a world class runner.  I find it fascinating to listen to others’ stories on training and racing. I can relate to both the struggles and triumphs that come with training and racing, even if Mrs. Flanagan is running at a ridiculously fast pace. One thing she said really stood out to me:

“I want to train and be so fit that I can’t make a mistake on race day.”

Of course, I immediately related this to teaching and the classroom. As teachers, we should be so fit that we cannot make mistakes during instruction. Yes, I know that’s a ridiculous statement. Mistakes happen and that’s okay. Please, just hear me out. I know it is quite impossible to plan for everything that may happen while teaching; to anticipate every question, to know when there will be a drill or assembly, to prepare for every distraction that may take away from instruction. I get it. I don’t think Mrs. Flanagan meant her quote to be taken 100% literally, either. Just like in the classroom, there are so many variables that a runner cannot account for on race day; weather and injury come to mind immediately. But, what a runner can do is commit so much to his or her training they become fit enough to make adjustments and overcome both the anticipatable and unforeseen mistakes. Training is tough…it’s really difficult to push through the pain of a hard run, both mentally and physically. But, without pushing oneself to be better in training, race day is so much more of a struggle and the odd mistake can totally derail the run. However, with a steady diet of intervals, speed work, tempo runs, long runs…both the mind and body are stronger and better able to conquer race day.

The same can be said of training for the classroom. Every teacher knows there is no substitute for preparation. I think we’ve all felt that feeling of showing up to class fully prepared; you know the material and are confident in your ability to teach. Unfortunately, I’ll bet we also know how it feels to show up and not really know how things are going to go; just trying to fake it through a lesson and not be made out to be the most ignorant person in the room. I can still remember my first semester at the school where I currently teach…teaching two new preps and just trying to stay one day ahead of my really intelligent students. I’m quite certain they figured out what was up, but they were really kind about it. I wasn’t fit (and it wasn’t really my fault). I limped to the starting line daily and just barely made it through the race that is classroom instruction. 

So, how does one become fit for the classroom? Here are three rules to follow:

  1. Know Your Content.

This is rule #1 for a reason. In my opinion, there is no greater way to run a more cohesive, effective, and efficient classroom than knowing your stuff. There is no substitute. Dedicate a large amount of time knowing your material, your standards, and curriculum. Quick story: A few years ago, I was being observed by one of my assistant principals, using the LCD projector and other bits of technology, when the power went out. In about two seconds, I was able to adjust to this ‘race day mistake’ and continue running. I quickly transitioned to other methods of conveying the material with barely a hiccup. The lesson continued and the observation went really well. In fact, my administrator commented on how well I transitioned because of the power failure. None of that happens if I don’t know and understand my content really well. I knew that a lot of the material was quite visual (anatomy of the motor neuron moving into neural communication) and I picked up the Expo markers and continued instruction. This is important not only because I knew where I was in the lesson, but I knew the content that was coming up next and how it all related. Super important. Again, there’s no substitute for knowing the content. Priority #1 for being fit.

  1. Know Your Race Day Limits.

No matter how well you prepare, no matter how well your training sessions go, we all have our limitations on race day. If I’m running and I know I’ve trained for a 7 minute per mile pace on race day, it would be a massive mistake to try and take on a 6 minute per mile pace. I will not make it and a multitude of mistakes will occur because of not knowing my limits. The same can happen in the classroom. Realize what’s most important for instruction and train to convey that message. Trying to do too much to make lessons seem flashy can be a mistake (especially if you haven’t listened to rule #1 above). Now, more than ever, with many making the switch to virtual lessons, please keep it simple. I am currently in week three of virtual teaching and I felt the urge to be more than I needed to be (and more than I’d trained for) at the start of this school year. I wanted to add all the new software and technology to make my student’s online experience great. What I realized pretty quickly was that trying to change the ‘race day plan’ of the virtual classroom was a mistake. I floundered in my abilities to instruct and students were left confused and lost using the LMS; not even making it to the lessons. One race day mistake led to others and the students’ experience was negatively impacted. In a sense, I tried to run a 6 minute mile, right out of the gates, when I’d only trained for a 7 minute mile pace. Know your limits.

  1. Don’t Overtrain.

While the training days where a runner really pushes themself tend to be seen as the more important sessions, the easy days are just as important. I love running intervals and tempo runs…love it. But, I’ve also realized that a 45 minute easy run is just as beneficial for my training; slow things down, listen to some tunes, allow the body some time to repair. By doing this, I am better able to avoid injury and I am stronger on the speed days. From the teaching perspective, overtraining can be a mistake that hinders our ability to finish the race…or the school year. Going back to my first year teaching two new preps at my current high school, I was up until 2:00-3:00am most mornings preparing for that day’s instruction. I do not recommend this. I put too much pressure on myself to perform and, as a result, I really put myself mentally and physically in a bad spot. I was very fortunate to not become sick…did I mention I also had an 8 month old at home? Yikes. I’m honestly not sure how I survived. 

So, while it is important to train, to have tough sessions, it is equally important to have some time to relax and take it easy. Don’t put yourself in a position where you cannot finish the race or overtrain and leave yourself susceptible to sickness or injury. Just like in running, finding this balance can be difficult in teaching. I find myself wanting to push more, do more, run faster, instruct more…when what really needs to happen is an easy day (or night). Listen to your mind and body. Don’t overtrain.

I’m super excited for my training run today…it’s a tempo session. It’s going to push me appropriately and assist with preparing me for my next race day. But, there will also be an easier day following and, long term, I’m going to stick to the training plan that sees me best improve my performance on the road. And, while training cannot prepare me for every contingency, it will improve my chances of overcoming anything a race day throws my way. By knowing your content, knowing your limits, and not overtraining in the classroom, instruction can also become somewhat mistake resistant. 

Train well. Be fit. Conquer mistakes.

Feature image by Brian Erickson on Unsplash.

3 thoughts on “Becoming Classroom Fit

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  1. Well stated friend. One day soon we’ll have to rekindle those training days of a decade ago. I think about you often on my runs and remind myself of the value of accountability in training. That being said…that’s another thing to think about in being a fit educator. Who is keeping you accountable, supporting you on the days when you just “don’t feel it”. Great post!

    1. A comment from THE Nathan Stockman? I am honored. I think about the early days of our careers and the conversations we had often. Great times with a great friend. Miss you, buddy.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on both training for races and training for teaching. Both are topics I enjoy immensely, however think I have more confidence in my ability to be race day ready compared to teaching ready on some days! One question I have is, how do you “know your content” without overtraining if you’ve been allocated to teach a topic you’re not an expert in?

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