Neither a Marathon nor a Sprint

A Twitter post by @royanlee (formerly @r_o_y_a_n) tonight got me thinking a bit about the nature of the classroom teaching experience. He’s right, of course. So if it’s not a marathon or a sprint, what is it?

As I have the opportunity to work with more and more pre-service teachers each year, I wondered if this running metaphor could be more accurately phrased. The ideas of marathons and sprints are serve as a good starting point, but I feel that are a bit too polarized to be accurate. To be sure, some days feel a bit like one more than another, however I don’t feel that paints an accurate picture of the profession.If I was to categorize teaching as a running metaphor I would probably say that it’s closer to a 5000 meter race on the track. For this race you need both speed and endurance. It’s a race that can be run with the speed of an 800m runner who has the endurance of a 10,000m athlete. There are times in the race you need to surge and put in a fast quarter to break up the field and times where you need to slow the pace down to conserve energy for your kick. Racing a 5k hurts. A lot. You really have to approach the race like a 1500 that’s going to last three times as long.

In a sprint if you let up, you’ve lost. If you have a bad start, you’ve lost. You pretty much need that perfect combination of everything to be successful. Our profession does lose a lot of good teachers in the first five years. Yes, some start a family while others find out it may not be the right fit for them. If you treat teaching like a sprint then unless you have that perfect start out of the blocks, you’ve lost. In a marathon the strategy is very different. The start is of no importance whatsoever, unless you start too fast. Then you’re sunk. In that race you can never recover from going out too quickly. Sure you will probably finish the race, but there will be a whole lot of unplanned walking involved. Spreading things out evenly is the key to running the marathon. Heck it’s even okay to stop and drink water along the route. Elite marathon runners are able to put in occasional surges during the race, but even the fastest surges pale in comparison to the speed that is needed to run 5k on the track.

I wouldn’t want to teach like it was a sprint. There would be no time for learning and trying new things would be far too risky. I wouldn’t want to approach teaching as a marathon. Too slow for the most part. The even pace, while practical and efficient, would rob me of the excitement that change can bring about. No, I think I’ll enter the 5000. I’ve gone on enough long runs to build up the aerobic resources and I’ve done enough interval training to handle the surges in the race. One thing is for sure, races like this are rarely predictable.

Runners, take your mark …

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One Comment on “Neither a Marathon nor a Sprint”

  1. Hey, Colin! Interesting metaphor! My most significant running experience was cross-country, a few years back. I’m wondering how that parlays into the mix? Hills, up and down; water hazards, forests, beaches, roads (yes, on roads) and paths. Lots of small changes in direction, need for responsiveness to the consistency of the terrain (mud!), minding out for branches and other obstacles. Yes, there’s a finish line in mind, and pacing is critical, but there’s also often a promise of interesting vistas and unique challenges along the paths.

    How does that work? Sounds a lot like learning!


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