Monday, May 13, 2013

Sweating at the Line

In honor of my students' own "This I Believe" essays, I decided to write my final reflection in the same format...  
I remember like it was yesterday. I tucked my two-sizes-too-big jersey into my maroon and white striped shorts. I double knotted my racing flats and tugged my ponytail tight. I wiped a drop of salty water that beaded down from my forehead. I craned my neck to my left and right to check out the hundreds of uniformed girls lined up next to me. My heart jumped as the starter prepared to fire the gun.
At least I had followed my dad’s advice: I was sweating at the line.
My dad’s words have stuck with me since that first cross country race at Goddard Park many years ago. I don’t always want to admit it (because I am a stubborn, know-it-all, twenty-something-year-old after all!), but this simple phrase has been instrumental in my success - both in and out of the woods.
As a high school runner, “sweating at the line” first meant to be physically prepared to run my race: jog for fifteen minutes, do some dynamic stretches, then do a few sprints. Second, it meant to be mentally prepared to run my race: nix the negativity, ignore the slight throb in my shins, and visualize myself breaking away from the pack.
But “sweating at the line” means much more than that. As I have learned, it’s not just a race day slogan; it’s an attitude for life.
As a practicum student at North Providence High School, paired with my bestie Ms. Carroll, “sweating at the line” meant hanging out in the Writing Center to outline our lessons way in advance. Then, a few hours before teaching, we’d meet in the library to make final adjustments to our objectives, assessments, and activities. We’d rehearse our plans in the car, do our handshake in the faculty workroom, and go teach.
Then, in my first days as a student teacher, when I first visited NPHS to meet my cooperating teacher, I immediately noticed her overwhelmingly upbeat attitude as she greeted the students (by name) at the door. Though some of the students returned her pleasant greeting, most mumbled and grumbled as they passed by. However, after writing in their Writer’s Notebooks and sharing a few responses, the mood lightened. The prep work Ms. Marsland had done to be “sweating at the line” each day with a smile and an engaging lesson worked like magic. Many days I wondered if I was ready to follow in the footsteps of such a charismatic leader.
Here, at ASFMS, “sweating at the line” has meant different things with each of the classes that I teach. For whatever reason, C period is quite ahead of the pack. This means they were the guinea pigs for most of my lessons. I’d try something out for the first time with them, and since so many of them are so bright, it’d work out fine. But, in teaching the lesson for the first time, I’d realize the kinks and refine my approach for the remaining classes. I feel slightly guilty about this, because sometimes I think they got the short end of the stick – like the time we did an awkward “stand up/sit down” at our crowded desks rather than spread out in the hallway to “cross the line.” Mhm ... I send my apologies.
E period, goodness I love them, but heaven knows how quiet they are! “Sweating at the line” meant figuring out how to get students not only to share answers with the whole class, but also to talk to one another in their groups - because in those conversations is where so much learning happens.
With B period I had the opposite concern – How do I make sure they respect one uanother’s voices? Because of this, they could be considered one of the most passionate groups, so willing to offer their thoughts and feelings, their interests and goofiness. I mean, how can I forget Mike V. and his insistence on watching the Wheat Thins commercial that Friday way back in April? Or Jess, and her desire to spread the message of Shane K’s “To This Day Project?” “Sweating at the line” meant balancing my desire to have fun and joke around with the need to manage the chitter chatter and maintain a productive learning environment. I’m definitely still working on that one.
And last, but certainly not least, F period. For a while I didn’t think I was going to be able to teach them, but when Pam showed up an hour late, Mrs. Ballard let me run with them to the land of Six Word Memoirs. Because they followed so well, the rest is history. F period has presented me with many challenges, but in my aspiration to be “sweating at the line,” I’ve learned how to adapt lessons to make them more hands-on to better capture (and maintain) their attention.
“Sweating at the line” is part of who I am as a teacher; I think it can be seen in the lessons I plan and my interactions with people of all kinds.

I have so many to thank for this, starting with, of course, my dad, my mom, and my little brother – my inspiration and my fans. Next, my own teachers, and especially my professors, who have coached me to a more complex and thoughtful understanding of education. My seminar teammates whose lead I have been lucky to follow and whose pep-talks have helped me get through some uncertainties. Ms. Marsland and Mrs. Ballard who so generously offered their classrooms (and themselves) as if trails to be explored. And all of the crazy, beautiful humans I have had the privilege of calling “my students” for the last few months. They have made me sweat, they have made me cheer, made me a better teacher, and a better person.

Yes, I believe you’ve gotta be sweating at the line.
DFTBA. #Actofhope.