It’s late August, and we were standing behind the school, waiting to start Cross Country practice. A group of 3 senior runners began to debate with me: “It’s so hot out.” “Let’s just go do curls in the weight room instead.” They continued, “Our legs are literally going to explode if we run 3 miles today, coach.” That last one was my favorite. I responded, “Well, I have plans tonight, so I would prefer that your legs stay intact – the paperwork for injuries takes forever.”
Nearly every day I had this same conversation with the 11 guys on the Rockhurst High School (Kansas City, MO) cross country E team. The E team (as the name suggests) is the group of sophomore-senior runners who like being on the XC team, but who are less-experienced. Week after week we would meet for practice and the tongue-in-cheek complaining would continue. But, week after week they continued to show up and go out for workouts. Every time I increased the mileage, they complained, but every time, they ran the whole workout.
By the end of the season, they were finally in decent shape and were ready for substantial long-distance workouts. At the beginning of the season, 3 miles was a challenge, but realizing how far they had come, they became fixated on beating their own distance records during the final weeks of practice. The final long run came around and the same 3 seniors who sulked about 3 miles decided to try to conquer an 11 mile run. They hit the streets, and 2 hours later they came up the final hill where they were greeted by 20 members of the team who stayed after practice to cheer them on. These guys looked like they had just won the Boston Marathon – and I have never been more proud.
If there is anything 8 years of Jesuit education has taught me, it is that after we do anything, from completing an average day at work to accomplishing a massive goal, we are invited by God to sit down with him and reflect on our actions (and the actions of others). I have been frustrated this year by the struggles of teaching – the struggles that come with trying to be great at something the first time around. Struggling to create objectives and improve existing ones, I would become upset that I didn’t take a course on curriculum in college. Struggling to relate material to my students in creative ways, I lamented my lack of technical lesson planning skill.
As I reflected on the season, I was inspired by how great the E team was. These young men accomplished things that they never would have thought they could. I was asking myself what the moment of change was during the season. The moment of transformation where they went from balking at a 3 mile challenge to attacking one almost 4 times the distance. Then I realized that the change came from within each one of them and it happened little by little, day by day, and week by week. These young men showed up each day and worked hard. That hard work brought upon a change that no inspiring speech or running wisdom could have. It became very clear that I too am called to do the same as a teacher and as a man.
At the beginning of the year, knowing that I would be learning how to be a great teacher on the fly, I stuck to a simple prayer in the morning: “God, help me be the teacher that my students need today, not the one that I think I should be.” I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would in my first 3 months, but right now seems like a great time to take a step back, bring God into the classroom, and trust that he will help me to be the teacher that my students need if I show up ready to run.