Sunday, March 25, 2012

Teaching in Minnesota...My Perspective

With this post, I'm taking a different direction from my normal running and faith-related posts. I just read an article from the Star Tribune regarding public school teachers and their pressures and expectations in the state of Minnesota. As a public school teacher, the article intrigued me but also got me a little fired up about how I feel about all the things that are being put on public school teachers today, both good and bad. I felt I should share my perspective, especially since my perspective is one that isn't being heard from in this state concerning all of this in Minnesota right now.

First, some background on where I am coming from as a teacher: I grew up attending school in the state's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin. I graduated in 2003 from Coon Rapids High School. When I went through my student-teaching, I worked in the Mounds View School District at Mounds View High School and Chippewa Middle School. I then spent my first 2 years teaching at Watertown-Mayer High School, a school of 500+ students about 30 minutes west of the Twin Cities. Since 2010, I have been teaching at Wayzata High School, a school of 3300 students (the largest high school in Minnesota). In total, I have taught professionally for 4 years in two school districts and have experience as a teacher or student in 3 or the largest high schools in the state.

As I go through this post I will preface everything by saying I am not an expert on any of this, but being a teacher now for 4 years, I have a lot of first-hand knowledge and experience of how all of these changes are affecting teachers, schools, parents, and most importantly, students.

I am a person who is self-motivated and have found a great passion for teaching and coaching. There is not another job in the world I would want to have. Most of the teachers I work with would say the same thing. With every job, there are stresses unique to the job, and they can make you question at times why you are doing what you are doing. It happens quite often for me in the classroom, but it rarely has anything to do with the students that I teach.

I became a teacher in part because of the amazing teachers that I had growing up. As I mentioned, I grew up in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. This district has been receiving some incredibly negative national publicity over the past months for a number of policies that had put teachers under difficult situations where their hands were tied with what they could and could not say. When I graduated in 2003, this district was widely considered one of the best in the entire state. Not because of their policies, but because of the amazing teachers that educated the students that entered those buildings. Those that look down on this district today, don't look down on those teachers working so hard in those buildings. Many of my teachers that influenced me are still there today and there are not mediocre or poor teachers. They are teachers who care, who work hard to get better and try to leave an impact on their students. Just to name a few that I know are still around, thank you to Ms. Zimba at Northdale MS, Mr. Gallagher at Andover ES (formerly at Sorteberg ES), Mr. Timm (now retired), Ms. Carlson, Mr. Dejoy, Mr. Scott, and Mr. McLean at Coon Rapids HS. These are just a handful of the people I am grateful of for leading me to where I am today.

Now on to some of what the article brought up. The state has passed some controversial policies in recent years regarding teachers and school districts. The most recent is doing away with tenure and requiring all teachers to be evaluated regularly and that experience would not be the sole reason for a teacher losing their job but also their ability as a teacher. I want to say that this is a phenomenal policy. Most teachers would disagree with me on this one. Teachers do need to be held accountable for their performance in the classroom. Many would respond to me by saying, "You're a probationary teacher. Of course, you want this policy to go into place. It helps you keep your job." While this is true, I have seen enough poor teachers who are protected by seniority who simply go about their business each day, doing the minimal requirements to keep their jobs (I took over the teaching responsibilities of one these such teachers this year). As I mentioned before, I am a self-motivated person. I don't like to do the bare minimum. I want to do the best that I possibly can at everything I do. I want to continually improve. I don't want to just do a half-a**ed job of educating my students. The one problem I find with this policy is how the teachers will be evaluated. Each teacher is now going to be evaluated once a year starting in 2014. That's a great start but one evaluation a year is not going to show you just how good of a teacher someone is. Using student test scores also won't cut it, at least not as a stand alone form of evaluation (which is what No Child Left Behind has been using). I don't have the answer, but I know the evaluations I go through as a probationary teacher at Wayzata are very thorough and give me as a teacher a lot of feedback into how I am doing and what I can improve on.

The other one that I want to touch on is one I do not agree with at all. It was passed by Governor Mark Dayton last year and it dealt with people getting into the educational field coming from a particular career field straight into the classroom. First, I think the initial idea of getting professionals with a strong background in a particular subject (ex. chemists, engineers teaching science & engineering courses) to teach those classes is a great idea. The way the state has allowed them to go about letting them get into schools is completely wrong. Those of us who chose the path of becoming an educator went through 4-5+ years of specific schooling to be an educator, extensive time spent observing professional teachers and being given the chance to teach in those rooms with the help of those teachers before being given a degree and a license to teach. The professionals who are stepping in are required a small number of classroom hours (in comparison) and can step right in to teach the same classes we've been teaching. The state has now discovered a problem with this and has now passed another new policy, requiring all potential Minnesota teachers to pass a basic skills test before they can teach in the state. Ummmm...last I checked all teachers had to do this to get into college to ultimately become a teacher in the first place. Do other professionals need to take an additional basic skills test before they step into their field? NO.

Teachers already have more hoops to jump through just to get into their first classroom. Adding more of this is going to continue to turn people away from wanting to be teachers. When that happens, good teachers will become much harder to find, class sizes will most likely increase and the quality of the students' education will decrease significantly, the exact opposite of what everyone wants to see.

As a teacher, I love what I do and wouldn't want to trade my job for anything else. Most teachers feel the same way. I am inspired each day by the students I am fortunate enough to work with. I hope 30 years from now I will still be impacting students the way I am today. I think all of us would agree we want the best for our siblings, children and eventually grandchildren when it comes to their education. I know for myself I will do everything in my power to keep positively impacting and educating my students but not every teacher's motivational scale may be the same as mine. The state of Minnesota is trying to do their best to improve the state's educational system. Some of what they are doing is on the right track. A lot of what they are doing is not. My hope is that the perspectives of other teachers can be heard by the state so that things can be done right and that our students in Minnesota can have the best education in the country, but we've got a very long way to go.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rough Running Week...Great Life Week!

This has been one crazy week to say the least. Jumping right to the exciting wife and I have found a house and have signed off on an agreement to buy our first house! At the beginning of the week, we were just taking a second look at the house, by the end of that night we were putting an offer on it. We spent the next two days going back and forth with the sellers making counteroffers but we finally came to an agreement and we will close on the house in mid-May! Both of us are incredibly excited for this next step in our married life together. We will be moving to Maple Grove, only a couple blocks away from Elm Creek Park Reserve, one of my all-time favorite places to run! Needless to say, the next two months will be very busy with planning, buying things for the house and packing to move out of our apartment (not to mention it's the end of the school year and track season!).

My week of training was not nearly as good as my week of life as a whole, but with the busyness of getting a deal on a house, my running had to take a backseat. Since Sunday, I have only run 41 miles (well below my original plan). Part of that was due to some discomfort in my left hip. My run this morning with the track team left me feeling the best I have with my hip in over a week. I've determined it is simply tight and as I long as I loosen it up really well before I run, I don't even notice it during the workouts. Running fewer miles probably helped it as well, but I'll certainly be keeping an eye on it, just in case it gets worse.

Tomorrow is a big day. It is the first race of the 2012 USATF Minnesota Team Circuit, the Human Race 8K on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. I'm excited to be running for Gear West again this year and am certainly planning on a much stronger season than I had last year. Keeping healthy throughout the year is my number one goal so I can be at my best in October for the Chicago Marathon but there are a number of races in the meantime I am really looking forward to, the Human Race being the first of those. You can see the rest of my upcoming races listed below on the right hand side of the blog.

Gear West will have a solid group of runners competing: myself, Kyle Donovan, Ted Lillie, Tim Wucherer, Jason Quarford, and Brian McCollor (Speedy). I will post race results later on tomorrow afternoon. For those of you doing St. Patty's Day races this weekend, good luck and have fun!!

Also, the video posted below is the recap of the Treadmill 1 Mile World Championships from two weeks ago. Watch for me running and being interviewed by Carrie Tollefson about halfway through the video!

Friday, March 9, 2012

5th in the World

I'm finally getting around to posting the results from the Treadmill 1 Mile World Championships last Friday night. It was a weekend long event, so I had to wait a couple days to get the complete results, but here they are: I placed 5th overall in a time of 5:10.3.

The first thing I will say was this was a lot more fun than I had been anticipating. I normally hate running on treadmills but this was a blast. I ended up competing on the treadmill directly next to a member of TC Running Company's racing team so the team competition intensified the atmosphere. He ended up beating me (he won the entire thing in 4:50!!) but I ran very strong. I began conservatively not knowing how much I trusted myself to avoid falling off the back of the treadmill if I started too fast. Eventually, I sped up and by the end of the race, I had nearly maxed out the treadmill.

The 2 days that followed left me with hamstrings being very sore and I couldn't do much to make them feel better. My hammys are not accustomed to moving like that, especially on a treadmill.

What I ultimately took from this race was that I am in a lot better shape than I thought initially. The first 10-15 seconds of the treadmill race was spent walking as the belt picked up speed so in reality, I may have run much closer to a 5:00 mile or under! I am now looking forward to the Human Race 8K one week from Sunday to kick-off the 2012 USATF Minnesota Team Circuit. Our Gear West team should be pretty strong this year and I hope to be much improved over 2011.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Race Day Preparations

Today is race day.

For any runner, new or experienced, young or old, fast or slow, race day is a special day. It doesn't matter what kind of race it is, how serious a runner is approaching the race, what the goal may be, a race day is special.

For me, today is no different. For as odd of a race as tonight's may be, it is still a race day and I am excited for the race tonight. Tonight I will be competing in the Treadmill 1 Mile World Championships at Gear West Ski & Run in Long Lake, MN. It is my first ever treadmill race so it will be interesting to say the least. I'm not a big fan of running on treadmills but I'm excited to race and try to go fast.

I thought I would share some of what I like to do on the day of a race to prepare myself for the event, regardless of how big or small the race may be. Most of my races take place on the weekends in the morning hours so typically I wake up fairly early. Usually I have a hard time sleeping the night before just because my mind is wandering as I think about the race. The first thing I do when I get up is take a nice hot shower, not to get clean (although I do) but to warm my muscles up right away. The hot water wakes all my muscle fibers up and gets them alert for what is about to happen. Next, I eat my usual breakfast of oatmeal and yogurt. I'll have water and a little bit of Gatorade to drink.

At this point, I'll make sure my bag is packed for the race and I'll head out to the car to drive to the race. While driving, I listen to very specific music, mostly Christian rock, stuff that gets me pumped up and focused for the race. Listening to bands like Switchfoot, Hawk Nelson, Anthem Lights, and some worship music gets me thinking about why I run (see the "Running for Joy" post) and how I can honor God with what I do.

When I arrive at the race event, I get my race number, shirt, etc. from the volunteers, return to my car to put my number on my jersey and then with about 45 minutes until the race I get out for a 2-3 mile warm-up run. From this point on, I prefer to be mostly on my own (if I'm not already) unless I'm competing with a team, just so I can be mentally preparing for the race ahead.

Each race is different so it's never quite the same routine. Today is very different as the race isn't until almost 6:00pm tonight. I worked all day today and won't be going home before the race. My eating patterns will be different, so today should be interesting.

Runners, as most athletes are, are creatures of habit. We like consistency. Today will be one of those odd race days for me. A few years ago, this would have scared me with the day being so different. Today, I embrace it.

However, there is one race day routine that I don't ever intend to change and it is reading one of my favorite lines of scripture prior to each race. It gets me in the right mindset entering the race. Here it is:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin."

- Hebrews 12:1-4

It gives great symbolism of a race and also provides a glimpse into the hope that Jesus gives each of us who put our trust in Him.

I will post this weekend at some point with results of the race tonight!