The Marathon I Run Every Day


The terrible events in Newtown, Connecticut this week have made me reflective in more ways than one.  As a mother, I worry about my two children heading off to their elementary school each day.  As a wife, I worry about my husband heading off to work at a hospital.  As a teacher, I worry about my students and their lives inside my building and out.

I am a special education teacher.  I teach students with a variety of special needs-ADHD, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances and autism.  I have worked in the same urban school district since I began teaching in December of 2007.  While I had many lessons to learn in my first years of special education, my rudest awakening came when I discovered that the unspoken disability that many of my students suffered from was poverty.  Students arrived to school hungry, dependent on free breakfast.  They arrived in unwashed clothes, without lunch money or food, without school supplies. Without medication they needed in order to manage attention problems or mental illness because their parents couldn’t afford it during any given month.  They came from single mother households, single grandmother households or foster care.  They worked jobs of their own at night and arrived to school the next morning exhausted.  In the worst case scenarios, they were soon-to-be parents or already parents themselves.  I was struck by the hopelessness, the anger, the fear that seemed to dominate most of their actions.  I was often angry and sad that so much of my job seemed futile in light of what these kids faced outside of my classroom.

How do I overcome those outside influences and convince children that learning something like chemistry or physics is worthwhile?  How do I instill a sense of self-efficacy in them, when they blame the world around them for their failures?  How do I make 50 minutes of their day meaningful?  How can I do all of this without feeling like I want to throw my hands up in the air and give up?  After 6 years of teaching, I still don’t know the answer to those questions, but this career is the marathon I run every day.  It’s the endless race that great teachers around the world are trying to win.  It’s exhausting.  It’s a mental and physical challenge of endurance.  It’s why such a huge percentage of teachers leave the career within their first five years.  Those of us that keep coming back to the classroom are the endurance athletes of education.  We keep training, we keep tweaking our form, we sacrifice time out of the rest of our lives to make what we do in the classroom better.  We keep fighting the fight, some days stronger than others.  We align ourselves with other great teacher-athletes, creating our own race crews, friends that can cheer us on and lend us a shoulder to cry on when the race doesn’t go as we planned.  We keep leaping over the hurdles placed in front of us by parents, administrators, politicians and society in general.  We line up every morning at the starting corral of our classroom doors hoping we are prepared for what the day has to bring.

The teaching community grieved this week with the families and friends of the Newtown victims.  We see our own students among the faces of the deceased, our colleagues among the faces of the teachers who died protecting their students.  We will practice lockdown drills with our classes, we will reassure our students that they are safe and we will do our best to carry on despite the fear we may be feeling ourselves.  We will reflect.  We will hope.  We will keep teaching.  It’s the marathon we run every day.

6 thoughts on “The Marathon I Run Every Day

  1. michads December 18, 2012 / 11:57 pm

    Well said Jess… You are a hell of an athlete in both senses…..

  2. Sharon Tummino December 19, 2012 / 7:39 am

    You are such a great teacher Jess. I am so proud of you for all that you give to others daily. They are fortunate to have you.

  3. Joe @ The Frolicking Fells December 20, 2012 / 11:58 pm

    This was a great post. I have worked with urban youth since 2003 and I share your sentiments! I started out as a Social Studies teacher in an urban charter school in Cleveland and then moved into a position working with youth in East Cleveland. I thought I was going to stop running the “marathon” that you described when I went to law school from 2008-2011…but as I have found with my attempts to take breaks from real-life running, the urge to keep running the “marathon” never went away and along with practicing law and teaching at Tri-C I work as a part-time administrator of an employment readiness program that operates in two urban CMSD schools here in Cleveland. I hope that those who find your blog through the Official Blogger page on the Cleveland Marathon site read this and come away with a new appreciation of the hard work that people like you invest on a daily basis! Keep up the good work–you’re making a huge difference in the lives of students every single day even if you feel like you’re running the “marathon” uphill at times!

    • gorunjess December 23, 2012 / 10:47 am

      Thanks for your kind words Joe! The work of teaching takes many forms and it sounds like you are still doing the work! 🙂 There are days when I question whether or not I’m in the right career field, but then I see one of my students graduate or accomplish a goal and I remember why I do what I do. Looking forward to reading more on your blog.

  4. rn4atsm January 1, 2013 / 5:36 pm

    Glad you found my blog and I did the same. This was a very good post. Good luck in Cleveland marathon training as well as the FH triathalon. That was my first tri that I did an a very fun course.

    • gorunjess January 1, 2013 / 6:26 pm

      Thanks Christian! Good luck to you as well. Great to read your blog and your efforts to raise awareness and money for autism.

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