I earn my living by writing a daily newspaper column. Each week I am aware that one column is going to be the worst column of the week. I don’t set out to write it; I try my best every day. Still, every week, one column is inferior to the others, sometimes spectacularly so.
I have learned to cherish that column. A successful column usually means that I am treading on familiar ground, going with the tricks that work, preaching to the choir or dressing up popular sentiments in fancy words. Often in my inferior columns, I am trying to pull off something I’ve never done before, something I’m not even sure can be done.
Jon Carroll, “Failure is a Good Thing”
“You guys, today I planned my first workout ever!”
I wave my index card at the students coming in from lunch, getting out notebooks and novels. On it, I’ve jotted down a series of drills with names like “Hop & Skip” and “Hop on 1 Foot.” One side says “Experienced” and the other says “Novice,” and the drills are even slightly differentiated.
“Ugh, do we have to do it?” someone asks with a grimace.
“This is English class. You have to write in your journal and then discuss The Great Gatsby. So… no, it’s for track.”
“Wait, you’ve never planned a workout before?” asks another student. “How do you usually work out?”
“I put on running shoes and, you know, go running somewhere.”
“So today you’re…?”
“Doing long jump.”
It’s ironic, really, that I’ve ended up specializing in sand jumps and assisting on sprinting with Black Forest Academy Track & Field. I was a member of the Ballard High track team for two and a half seasons, during which I competed in long jump, all three relays, and every race that didn’t involve hurdles. When I tell students about this, they’re either incredulous or impressed, thinking I’m some kind of genius decathlete.
This is not the case. I started out as a mid-level sprinter and passable jumper, but a season of cross-country slowed most of that down, so that as the seasons wore on my trips around the track grew progressively more. One of the last races was a 3200 meter race in which I finished two laps behind the lead runner. I was an all-around mystery to my coaches, with a great deal of experience and little expertise.
Today I’m flipping the album back twelve years, back to ninth grade when I competed regularly in long jump. It’s a delight, really. I’m standing in the rain, counting the steps of sprinting athletes, watching their feet cross a muddy board and sweeping puddles off the sodden runway. I’m crying “Faster! Toes straight ahead! Up and out!” as the sand flies in my face. I’m answering to “Coach.”
It’s all so new to me.
Two years ago, I found myself in a strange position. I was mentoring a student teacher at Ingraham, confident and complacent in a job I’d held for several years, looking ahead and wondering how I would keep learning in the years ahead. I little knew at the time that life is never static, that walking with God means the pursuit of new challenges around each unexpected turn. Yet I remember fearing it, this feeling of mastery, even then searching for ways I could continue growing, both as a teacher and a person.
Coaching track isn’t the obvious choice for me, the place I am most qualified and knowledgeable. And yet the habits of encouraging and challenging students, honed the last four years in the classroom, are serving me well here. I’m honored with the responsibility, taking care to do my homework. (On my coffee table are two books–the Track & Field coaching manual and my Canadian History textbooks. It’s the story of this year.) For the rest, I’m learning, making mistakes, growing as a teacher as I serve students in a new way.
In the last year, God has taken me around the world, challenged me in ways I could never have imagined. Sometimes that means learning a new language, finding a place in a new community. And sometimes it means reading about triple jump on Saturday afternoon, then getting up to hop, skip and jump across the living room.