Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Teaching and Cycling: An Analogy

I recently took up cycling. My husband has been riding for the last 5 years and is a pretty serious riding 30-70 miles on a regular basis. Over the years I have developed a desire to try riding a bike for exercise. I have bad knees and limited amounts of time being a teacher and a mother of four young children. This was something I figured I could squeeze in that wouldn't make my knees swell up like cantaloupes.  So he got me a bike for Mother's Day, and I've been riding all spring and summer. I've come to realize that how good you feel on a bike can completely depend on the wind. And here in Kansas we have a lot of wind. Basically you will encounter one or a combination of the following three scenarios.

A tailwind, giving you a nice push and making your ride seem easy.

A head wind, making the ride 10 times harder and usually involving a few choice words as I push through.

And a crosswind, which isn't as hard as a headwind, but is tricky because sometimes you THINK it's a headwind until you turn and realize that the wind is blowing much harder this direction.

Of course any of those scenarios can come with the route that you ride. Could be uphill, could be downhill, could be flat land. How you feel about your ride totally depends upon the combination of all of these things.

And one morning as I was pushing up a hill (and probably swearing) I was started to think that cycling is an excellent metaphor for teaching. 

Allow me to explain.

For 13 years I worked at a middle school in a small town. And while there were moments where it may have been a little bit difficult for the most part it was easy. And it was fun! Essentially this was a bike ride with a tailwind. And while there might have been a few hills along the way (maternity leaves, new admin, student teachers, new standards, new technology...) I still had the wind pushing me in the back allowing me to remain, mostly, comfortable. Easy.

Eventually that got too easy. There was no challenge left in that road I was taking. It was flat land with a huge tailwind. I couldn't push myself anymore where I was. So I changed directions.

All of a sudden I found myself riding uphill with wind in my face. I had made a huge shift in the direction I was going. Now I was teaching a brand new content, and a brand new school, to a brand new age group. All while having four kids under the age of seven. It was a crazy ride! As I kept going and as I pushed through it started to get a little easier. The hill started to flatten out a little bit the wind started to die down. In January I felt like finally I was feeling more confident and I was growing stronger. It was exciting! I could just tell that come next August that wind was going to shift back into a tailwind helping push me through the hills that would come.

Nope.  As often it does, unexpectedly the wind changed. Instead of shifting into a tailwind. We were all forced to ride straight into a headwind. A strong headwind. Uphill. 

Now as I approach the teaching year in August of 2020 I find myself looking at a very long and windy uphill ride. And there's no clear view in the forecast of when that might change.

But I know all I have to do is keep going. Keep pedaling. There's no reward for finishing first. And while some of us have been riding for a while and have tools and tricks and muscle built up to push us through. We have some that will stop, they are tired of the ride and won't do it anymore. And that's okay.  We also have brand new cyclists. Who are not starting out on a flat road with wind behind them, they're starting out with a huge hill and a strong head wind. They're going to need coaches that cheer them on and ride next to them as they struggle.  We may need to find new tools and equipment that can help us push through. We'll have to just keep moving forward, even if it is slow. 

So what can we take away from this analogy?
1. Slow progress is still progress. Even thought it may not seem that way and it will be hard...and probably consist of a few muttered "choice" words. It's still progress.

2. There is no room for comparison. I ride at an average sustained 13.5 mph on a good day for 8-12 miles. My husband rides at an average of 20 mph and goes on 50 miles rides. For fun... (WTH??). It does me no good to compare myself to him. He has different goals and is in a completely different kind of shape than I am. Same goes for teaching. Look to learn from those who are better...not feel defeated because you don't know or do as much. It's ok to be where you are as long as you're working on progress. 

3. We're gonna need to rest and take care of ourselves along the way. Long rides don't happen without some self-care along the way. Otherwise you put yourself in danger. Take your personal days. Leave your computer closed and find ways to regenerate! 


4. Eventually the wind will die down and the land will level out. And when it does we will emerge from that ride amazed at how much stronger and confident we are.

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