Thursday, March 29, 2007

Running on Empty

On Sunday, March 25th, my husband, my best friend and I all set out to defeat the impossible: we were running in the ING Inaugural Atlanta Marathon. My husband had been injured since the Miami marathon in late January, so he hadn’t actually trained for about 2 solid months. Regardless, his awesome attitude was so refreshing – he just wanted to finish the half marathon. I was so proud of him because he is generally an extremely competitive individual. EXTREMELY. And I don’t mean competitive with just other people, he is competitive within himself. You would think that this is a good trait, and generally it is. But I have witnessed some grizzly bear-like behavior from him in the past because of this competitive streak. The man would probably eat his own young when in this competitive trance. I have to smile when I think about how laid back and relaxed he was about Atlanta though. He finished in less than 3 hours, which is pretty darn good given the fact that he didn’t train a lick the 2 months prior! Way to go Meat, I am proud of you!

As for Jason Simoni and I, the race definitely tested our limits. I am a goals oriented person, so I prefer to be running FOR something or FOR someone. The Miami half marathon, for example, I ran for me because I hadn’t run for myself yet. The Atlanta race was indirectly for me because I ran for my brother, Paul. Paul was killed 3 years ago in Ohio and the tragedy has forever changed our family dynamic. I do not have any other siblings. My parents do not have any other children. Every day is a constant reminder that we no longer have Paul with us here. He would not graduate college. He would not get married. He would not have his own children. He would not be there with me when my parents pass away. Paul is gone and he is not coming back.

The first 18 miles went well, given the fact that Atlanta is covered with hills. Simoni and I attacked the hills going up, and coasted/relaxed on the way down. The problem was, after you ran down one hill, you found yourself going up another… and another… and another. The Atlanta course was by far one of the prettiest and friendliest races, but it was also extremely challenging. I had on a shirt that said “FOR PAUL” on the back, in green to represent the organ donation ribbon color. My shoes were also green with a lapel green ribbon pin I had attached to the right one. My reasoning was that when I wanted to quit, I would probably look down at my feet. That pin was there to remind why I was doing this and whom I was doing it for. People would pass us and say such nice things like “C’mon girlie, you know Paul wouldn’t quit!” and “Paul would be so proud of you.” Every time someone said anything, I would get choked up and I would fight back tears. Simoni would literally hold me up (he was helping me walk for a few miles at this point) and there was a time, at mile 25, that Simoni was holding back the tears too.

Simoni is truthfully the real reason I didn’t quit. After stopping at a med station at around mile 24 or 25 (I truthfully don’t remember which because I was dehydrated, shaking and delirious. Papa Smurf could have been the doctor checking my pulse for all I knew) Simoni and I informed the doctor that I wasn’t stopping now. “I’ve made it this far” was my response. And Simoni wouldn’t let them take me either. After that brief pause, Simoni continued with his motivational speeches. He wasn’t necessarily yelling at me, but he would speak in an intense tone and use cuss words to express his seriousness. “I’m serious, Timmons. You’re not going to quit! If I have to carry your f*+%ing @ss across that damn finish line! I am going to punch you so f*+%ing hard!” What are friends for, right? At that time, I would just nod my head in agreeance, half wondering if he would in fact hit me so hard in the kidney that I would piss blood for a week and half wondering if the Snorks and the Easter Bunny would be waiting for me at the finish line. If I didn’t have Simoni, I probably would have laid down in the grass and wished for the slow van, an ambulance or the Mystery Machine to come pick me up. I am not sure if it was because of the hills or the heat (they had record highs that day. Go figure.) Or because people kept reminding me why I was there, but that event was the single hardest thing I have ever done. I have never wanted to quit anything so bad before in my life – and I am not a quitter. My mother would never let me quit anything I started (including softball, but repressed memories from little league sports might have to be its own post someday), so I couldn’t quit then and I wasn’t about to start now.

Upon finishing, I slammed on the brakes and began my staggering descent towards the asphalt. Yep, I was going to be one of those weenies who has to get wheeled off the finish line. I was shaking and couldn’t breathe because Simoni and I ran the very last mile together. He was so positive and strong; I have a tremendous amount of respect for him for what he did for me. As if being wheeled away in a wheelchair wasn’t embarrassing enough, a man with prosthetic legs beat Simoni and I and was being treated for his sores in the medical tent right next to me. There were people being given fluids with IV’s, people were getting ice wrapped to body parts and the man with no legs. There were 400 people treated in the med tents and I was one of them.

I guess the funniest thing is, once the marathon was over and we had a day or two of recovery, we already started discussing which marathon we were going to run next. I remember telling my mom that I wasn’t entirely sure why on earth I continually do this to my body, but somewhere in the depths of my brain and my muscles, I must like doing it. Otherwise, why would I want to do it again… and again… and again? Our next race will hopefully be New York. I hope you are proud, Paul.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Where does it get me?

I was sitting at a student desk, waiting for a meeting to start today, when I announced that I had set up a new blog. My colleagues were interested and even one decided to read it right away. (I felt so special!) Rather than appreciate the blog in its entirety, the others simply asked what it was about. I informed them that I had an awakening, literally, on Sunday morning when I got out of bed and nestled into the couch to watch CBS Sunday Morning with my husband. I had come to the realization that teaching is just “hard”. It takes a lot of work to be good at what you do in anything, and I am not trying to convince others that my profession is more difficult than theirs, but we as educators are taking on more and more with the different (and sometimes difficult) situations our students are facing at home.

The “student and home life” situation will need its own blog entirely! Rather, the comment that caught me off guard is as follows: I was telling my fellow teachers that we have to work very hard in order to be good at what we do. A particular individual responded with “And for what? Where does it get you?” Where does it get me? It doesn’t necessarily transport or move me anywhere in particular, but I began to digest his comment right away and over the next few hours, it "got" me somewhere.

Why do we do anything? Seriously! I mean, why do I run marathons? When you really think about it, why on earth do I torment my body over 26.2 grueling miles in half a day’s time? Why do I spend the time and energy over months and months to train and prepare myself for just 5 hours? Why do I run so hard that I am sore for 3 days and my heel bleeds from running in the rain? Why do I set goals for myself? Why do I get excited when it gets closer and closer to race time, when they shove you into chutes like herds of wild mustangs waiting to be branded? Why do I even bother?

Maybe I’m just a competitor. Maybe I enjoy challenges. Maybe I like the sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s all or none of these. But, knowing that I tried my hardest and did the best that I could on that particular day, well, I just sleep better. My mind is more at ease, my stress levels drop and I don’t beat myself up for not trying harder. There is nothing heavier than regret – regretting not to say something to someone, regretting not to plan better, regretting not taking advantage of a situation that could make use of your full potential. My college volleyball coach gave me some advice that still sticks with me to this day. I was just having a rough week in practice, and I guess I wasn’t performing up to his standards, so he called me into his office. He sat behind his huge cherry desk and informed me, very nonchalantly, of all of my shortcomings and imperfections on the court. I truthfully don’t even remember him saying anything positive. I sat there for a moment, stunned and trying to think of how I could defend my efforts, so I simply told him that I was trying my best. His response: Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. You know what? He was right.

Sometimes your best isn’t going to be good enough, but at least you have the peace of mind knowing that you tried. I am not sure if that is enough for everyone, regardless of their profession, but it’s good enough for me. I don’t need the mansion, the Benz, the fat bank account and the recognition… I just want to do my best.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When your tail is so short...

It happened. I have been bitten by the blog bug so now people can finally take a glimpse into the simple and sarcastic world that my brain inhabits. I have given it much thought, about what to write today, and I have finally landed on a theme that I know some people will truly understand.

I am in my 3rd year of teaching middle school science. I absolutely love my profession and I readily enjoy working with my team of teachers and the kids we have. But (and there is always a BUT), I have never worked harder in my entire life to make meaningful lessons and projects, to ensure that I am reaching the most students I possibly can as well as creating applicable assessments. Our planning times are muddied up with meetings, student-parent conferences, training segments and committee obligations. Don’t get me wrong, I fully comprehend the importance of each and every one of these events, but it cuts into the time I feel is needed in order to me to “be” a successful teacher.

Regardless of the time constraints, the weekend planning and the late night grading sessions, I still want to be good at what I do. And honestly, I feel like I am finally becoming a real teacher. Experienced teachers always told me that you really do not start "coming into your own" as an educator until about your 3rd year. I remember brushing that advice off like a gnat at a barbeque, you know, as if I "knew so much with my tail being so short". I have no qualms admitting it now though, Dad - you were right.

Nothing prepares you for your 1st official year. NOTHING. No college degree (and no masters degree for that matter), no student-teaching interning experience and no amount of preparation even comes close to priming yourself for your own classroom with your own kids and your own activities. All of the above mentioned activities are simply warm-ups for what your classroom might be like.

I liken the 2nd year of teaching to your beginning teenage years. You still feel awkward, clumsy and question whether or not you are going to amount to anything, just like at that middle school dance where you wanted to slow dance with an 8th grade boy named Matt but you were too nervous he would say no. You want to be a good teacher and you want your kids to be good students, but there is still something lacking in that final equation: experience.

My 3rd year is coming close to its end and I can vouch that I have finally blossomed into something. Something great? No, not yet. But I will get there, someday. I think another important aspect of teaching is that you must never be completely satisfied, you must never feel like you are the epitome of the perfect educator and you can never stop teaching and learning yourself.

To all of you teachers out there, young or experienced, aspiring or retired…

Thank you and good luck.