If you are a teacher or know any teachers then you already know this, but this has been a hard year. And that’s such an understatement. It’s been hard for so many different reasons, but on some recent mornings, as I ran, I could see more clearly part of why.
I am now going to make a running analogy. To anyone who knows me, this is hilarious. I run but I do not think of myself as a runner. I run because I can and it’s an exercise option that’s cheap and easily available. Also, I do sprint triathlons so I should do some kind of training. I’m okay with being slow but I do want to be able to complete each race. (Because that’s why I do sprint triathlons, to complete them, to have done them.)
In the past few weeks I’ve been trying to actually improve my running, not just get through my runs. I leave the house around 5:30 am and I’m not truly awake, much less functioning well. As a result, when I start running it’s pretty ugly. My form is not good, another understatement.
Many mornings, as I’ve been trying to do, I’m forcing my brain to find the space and energy to focus on my form. Instead of just trying to keep moving forward, I try to get my arms where they should be and to think about my stride. As soon as I do, I can feel the difference. Running is immediately less of a challenge. I can go faster without any extra effort. I am running more efficiently and effectively. Of course, a hill or having to stop for traffic before crossing a road, and my form slips again. I have to force my focus back.
For most of my years of teaching, that’s what it felt like. A rough start, pretty ugly, get the focus and find the groove. With occasional needs to find the focus again and get back on track. Establishing routines and building a learning community as a class is what we do at the start of every year to get us on a path that is efficient and effective. The pauses and the hills happen but when we’ve already established strong routines and built a tight learning community, we can readjust quickly after those bumps.
This year has been different. We began with COVID protocols that didn’t allow for much of the community building I’ve done for years. Kids had to have assigned seats (something I haven’t done in more than a decade). We couldn’t gather on the carpet together for more than a total of 15 minutes each day. We struggled to figure out what routines would work for us and how to make our community a meaningful thing.
And then protocols changed. And we adapted.
And then they changed again. And we adapted.
And again. And again. And again.
We’d figure out the form and stride we needed and then our terrain would change. Drastically. So we would force ourselves to find the brain space and energy to focus on our form yet again. To build new routines or reestablish old ones. To look at our community and determine what it needed.
No matter how good our form was, no matter how solid our stride was, we struggled. We had to, again and again, find our form and stride. Anytime things were rolling, anytime we were in a groove, we’d hit some kind of bump, often more like mountains than molehills.
So now, we’ve made it to the last handful of days. But it’s been ugly. We’ve been dragging ourselves to the finish line. There’s no final burst and sprint. It’s just a slog. Which is far from ideal for any of us.