Take Your Mark, Get Set . . .

And with the sound of the starting gun, we are off and running in another school year.  For most a 180-day trek that includes additional professional development days, holidays (some celebrated in school and others out), perhaps some weather days missed, but certainly including meetings with parents, faculty meetings before or after school hours, lesson plans, extracurricular events, field trips, chapel services and student body gatherings, and on and on the list goes . . .

© 2013 Tim Alamenciak. Creative Commons. See image citations for full reference (#46).

© 2013 Tim Alamenciak. Creative Commons. See image citations for full reference (#46).

Yes, the race is on.  But as any worthy racer knows, the race must be entered with a strategy.  So just what must be considered for this race we call a school year?

Before we identify some basic strategies for the race, we must consider the type of race we are entering.  I remember attending a significant track and field meet as a young man.  Watching as the 880 –yard run took place, I remembering being impressed with the sheer speed of the athletes.  What I had considered a mid-length race, these guys were treating it almost like a sprint.

And, of course, when the sprinters stepped on the track for the 100-yard dash, the buzz in the crowd grew to a fevered level.  As the gun sounded, the ten-second rush was crazy and then Gone!  

But I will never forget as the runners prepared for the 2-mile run.  They did not use starting blocks, they simply stood along a slightly curved line on the track.  As the race started, there was quickly identified a rabbit, a runner who ran a very fast pace and forced the other runners to pick up their speed for fear of being too far behind at the end.

But the rabbit began to fade about halfway through the race, having spent all early and, as I remember, the rabbit did not even finish the race.  As a young person watching the race, I thought about the incredible stamina of these long distance runners.  Sitting close to the track and seeing the incredible pace they were running gave me new respect for them.

While the sprinters and rabbits made the crowd buzz, the long-distance runners had garnered my respect.  And so it will be with the school year.  Successful teachers, prior to beginning the race, must realize that the race is long distance, not a sprint.  It cannot be viewed as a 10-second sprint that creates a buzz in the crowd.

And unlike a long-distance race, the school year does not need a rabbit.  Successful teachers size up the year and note that the 180-day trek is much more a marathon than a sprint.  So how must we prepare for this long-distance race.  Here are several considerations—

  • Preparation is paramount!  Successful teachers are prepared to teach, having planned strategies and lessons that will both teach and inspire students in the learning process.  Every day of the race requires preparation.  If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail!
  • Health is needed!  Just as competitive runners require appropriate meals and rest, so, too, does the successful teacher.  Teachers must take care of themselves physically, eating well and getting adequate sleep.  While there will always be some nights when this is not possible, a teacher’s rule should be a good night’s rest.  And we must do so from the beginning.  For this school year, we don’t need any rabbits.
  • Guard your attitude!  Sometimes we look around and note that there may be a rabbit in the race.  Be careful!  Do not get caught up in an early sprint.  Likewise, don’t allow a lazy runner to influence you to lay back, feeling like “at least I won’t finish last.”  Remember, in everything, excellence!
  • Don’t’ be too comparative!  The Bible clearly warns us against “judging ourselves by ourselves.”  In other words, we cannot compare ourselves to another teacher and make that teacher the measure of our effectiveness.  Paul tells the Corinthians that this is unwise.  We must run our race.  Steady progress and pushing ourselves to our limits will allow us to finish the race strongly.
  • Don’t lose composure!  There will be many things that will challenge your composure this year.  Maybe an unruly or unresponsive student.  It might be a parent that has unreasonable expectations.  Family matters may challenge you emotionally or physically.  Remember that effective teachers keep an even keel.
  • Internal resolve is required!  Every distance runner that I have been able to talk with describes in varying terms a critical point in a race called hitting the wall.  It is the point that continuing the race is no longer a physical issue, but now the race is run on the will, the inner strength, of the runner.  Successful teachers must maintain strong, spiritual resolve based on an ongoing relationship with Christ.  It is not a matter of if you will hit the wall, it is a matter of when.

So when the gun sounds in the next few days, and your race begins for another year, please remember that you are not a sprinter.  The school year is a distance race and requires a different approach if success is to be achieved.  So, run well, my friend!

Would you share with us a tip that helps you is this long-distance race we call a school year?

Edward is the founder and managing editor of Focus on Christian Education. He also serves as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools.