Tagged: better

I accomplished my goal…and it was awful.

resilienceI’ve confessed before how much I suck at running. It’s true. I’m really not being modest. I’m slow. It hurts. It’s discouraging. And yet, last month I ran a marathon. Okay, that sounds better than it actually was. It’s true I did complete the 26.2-mile distance, and people have been incredibly kind to pat me on the back and tell me how awesome I am to have finished it. And yet, I’m not happy with my accomplishment at all.

My race day was awful. In the weeks leading up to the race, my stomach didn’t play nicely. I tapered my runs. I took my supplements. I watched my diet and my hydration. I did everything I knew to do in anticipation of my race on December 6th, but I still found myself in my doctor’s office on the afternoon of December 5th watching as he shook his head and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I did.

The first 15 miles of the race went well. I ran right along with my pacer. I cheered my fellow runners on. I thanked volunteers and hugged friends who’d come out to support our cause. I felt great. My energy level was good, and my spirits were high. I doing it. Mile 16 changed everything. At the end of 15, I stopped to go to the bathroom. My pacer ran ahead, but I wasn’t worried thought I could catch up with her. I never did.

Mile 16 was awful. My stomach started cramping, and my legs, feet, and lower back began to hurt. I had to stop for the bathroom again at the next water station. Honestly, if a friend hadn’t been there to encourage me to go on, I probably would have quit. I certainly felt like giving up. Miles 17-21 consisted of a little running, some walking, regular Porta-Potty stopping, and lots of grumbling. I expected to see my family at mile 19, but falling off pace meant missing their cheering faces, too. I trudged on.

I don’t remember much of the last five miles. I know I ran more than I walked, and I know every single step hurt. A lot. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stop at the toilets during the last few miles. There was nothing left in my system. I crossed the finish line in 5:42:48. I wasn’t happy or proud, but I was finished. I’d been looking forward to the race for months. I’d trained my body. I’d raised money for a great cause. I wanted to feel good about it all, but I didn’t. I just felt awful. Yes, I’d finished the marathon; I’d technically accomplished my goal. But, the experience didn’t met my expectations, and I’m a little sad and discouraged as a result.

Where does this leave me as a runner? I’m not sure yet, but I’m finding it tough to lace up my Brooks. What do you do when you’ve accomplished a goal, and it’s left you feeling bleh?

Why I Run

Why I runA few years ago, my friend Todd told me that he and another friend had started training for their first half marathon. They had just finished a Couch to 5K program and were looking for a new challenge. As I listened to my friend, I realized I was jealous. My friend was getting in shape and I wasn’t. He was taking care of himself and I wasn’t. In fact, I was headed in the opposite direction, and I needed to do something about it. School was almost out for summer so I bought some Nike running shoes at the nearest outlet store, downloaded a #C25K app for my iPhone, and hit my neighborhood streets. By the time summer ended, I was ready for a 5K race and feeling better about my physical health.

I started running for health reasons. I needed to lower my cholesterol; I wanted to lose some weight. I hoped it might help me live long enough to escort my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. My motives were primarily selfish, but they got me out the front door to the street each morning. They helped me accomplish a few goals and brought others within reach.

So I was running right along somewhat proud of my accomplishments when I realized something: I’m a terrible runner. I’m not being humble. I’m really not. I wish I were just being hard on myself, but I’m not. I suck at running. I’m awful at it. I’m slow–painfully slow, and it doesn’t bring me lots of joy the way it does many of my runner friends. Instead, I see running as really hard work and on most days I’d rather crawl back under the covers when my alarm sounds at 4:30 AM.

Races are usually discouraging. More people pass me than I am able to pass, and my personal records are beyond my reach these days. I cannot remember the last time I beat my best time at any distance.

I’ve also become injury prone. I suffer from bad knees and take supplements to relieve the joint pain. Last year, when I complained to my doctor about some neck and upper back pain, he noticed my shoulders are somewhat asymmetrical. X-rays confirmed a mild case of scoliosis so now my recovery from long runs often includes taking a muscle relaxer, and I hate the way it makes me feel.

Running is hard. I suck at it. It hurts, and I find it completely discouraging. So, why do I run? Why put myself through it? I run because I suck at it. I suck, but I keep trying to get better.

I’m competent at most of what I choose to do in life. I’m pretty confident in all my roles. For example, I’m a pretty good teacher. I know how to develop my students’ thinking. I know how to design learning experiences and how to manage a learning environment. I also know my subject well. I love reading and writing, and I know what it takes to be a good reader and writer. I’m able to develop strong relationships with my students and my colleagues. And I’m able to leverage these things to continually improve my practice. Being in a classroom is “in my wheelhouse.”

However, I know the same isn’t true for all my students. For many of them, being in a classroom is hard work. School is discouraging. When their alarms go off each morning, they want to crawl back under the covers and not get up for school. They may find my class to be painful or uncomfortable. They may think they “suck” at reading and writing. They may have learning difficulties to overcome each day, and they may get tired of learning always being so hard.

So I run. I run to empathize. I run to better understand. I run because quitting isn’t always an option. Running is hard, but I’m a better teacher having ran.

Cleaning Up Collateral Damage

collateral damageMy day started early. The alarm chimed at 4:45 AM, and I rolled out of bed fumbling for my running shorts and shoes as I headed toward the bathroom. On the way I grabbed my phone hoping to check a few emails and do some multi-tasking for school while I prepped for my early morning jog.

Ugh. I saw the name in my inbox and knew this wasn’t how I wanted to start my day. Emails sent from parents in the middle of the night are never a good thing.

I considered waiting to open it. I started to close the Mail app, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else during my run. The unknown contents of the message would haunt my entire workout. With a deep breath I opened the message.

Mr. Cummings,

*Todd came home very upset today about a conversation regarding his makeup work. Todd has missed 4 days of school due to illness last week. He had fever and felt terrible. He was very weak all weekend and could barely keep his head up during dinner tonight! The full school day exhausted him. There was evidently a test  scheduled in your class today, and Todd stated that you expected him to take the test because “you knew what the homework was, Todd; it was online.” I’m not sure how you feel when you are sick with fever, but Todd couldn’t even lift his head to drink enough let alone think about schoolwork.  He certainly wasn’t checking homework on the computer nor was he reading.

He went on to say that you conceded by allowing him to read tonight and take the test tomorrow. He knows he has quite a bit of work to make up, and we are making sure he gets caught up while continuing to do his daily work. He is still not 100%.

This week his PE time is already taken up with other academic commitments so he has no extra time at school. Thank you in advance for  your understanding and allowing him adequate time to get caught up. I can tell you now that he cannot take the test tomorrow as he went straight to sleep after dinner.

Sincerely,

Todd’s mom

Yikes! I’d totally blown it. Todd was a great kid and a wonderful student. He always gave his best and did quality work. I had known he’d been out sick, but I hadn’t realized how sick he was. Truthfully, I wasn’t even upset that Todd wasn’t ready to take the quiz. He just caught me at the completely wrong moment. When he walked up to speak with me about his situation, I was already frustrated by another matter. I was having a lousy day. Todd innocently walked into my frustration with horrible timing, and he’d received the brunt of my exasperation. I’d made a sick kid feel worse.

Looking back, I recognized immediately my first reaction to Todd was wrong. That’s why I quickly reconsidered and offered to let him take the quiz the next day. I think I intended for the modifying of my expectations to be an olive branch offering to Todd for my inappropriate response. Todd didn’t need an amendment; he deserved an apology. He deserved a teacher humble enough to own his mistakes. He deserved a better me.

I wrote Todd’s mom the following message:

I will apologize to Todd today. He bore the brunt of some other frustration and that wasn’t fair. Todd is a good student, and he is conscientious about his work. I really didn’t mean to speak harshly to him or make him feel bad. I was irritated over another matter (not related to Todd), and he walked into it unfortunately.

Todd can make up the reading and take the quiz sometime next week (the book is very short). I really wasn’t upset or frustrated with him. He just caught me at the wrong moment on a bad day, but that’s really no excuse. I’ll speak with him today and try to make things right. Again, I’m sorry; please accept my apology. My reaction wasn’t intentional, but it was an over reaction and wrong. Thank you for letting me know I upset him so that I can fix my mistake. He’s a great kid, and I enjoy having him in class.

Thanks-

Philip Cummings

Later that morning, I met Todd at the top of the stairs entering our class hallway. I apologized for my behavior explaining that I was wrong to treat him that way and that I really wasn’t frustrated with him. I thanked him for being such a dedicated hard-worker and told him that he had more than enough “deposits in the Mr. Cummings bank” to make a few withdrawals when needed. Todd smiled, accepted my apology, and appeared to understand. His parents were gracious enough to accept my apology, too. I appreciate such grace.

As a teacher (and as a parent), sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge my mistakes—to admit when I’m wrong, when I’m petty—to admit I’m fallen and broken. I want to be the best teacher I can be. My students deserve the best, and on some days, my best may just be an apology.

 *Todd is not the student’s real name.

No Victory Lap

birth storyI awoke at 2:37 AM. I know because I looked at the clock next to my bed. I heard the shower running in our bathroom, and Debbie was no longer lying beside me in bed. I stretched out my ankle like I always must after sitting or lying for a long time, then I went to the bathroom and poked my head inside the shower to ask Debbie if she was okay.

“I think my water has broken,” she said calmly. She’d been through this before three different times.

“What should I do?” I questioned.

“Go get dressed, pack your bag, grab the baby’s diaper bag, and get her dress and blanket.” My wife is always very patient with me.

I shot back into the bedroom, threw some clothes in a backpack, dressed, then changed clothes again before returning to the bathroom to ask Debbie if I should wear pants or shorts to the hospital. I was afraid it might be cold in the delivery room.

She replied, “It doesn’t matter, but you need to call Mom and Dad to come watch the boys while we go to the hospital.”

I dashed back to the bedroom, called my father-in-law, then continued scurrying about gathering belongings and throwing things in the mini-van. After a few minutes had passed, I noticed Debbie leaning against the van.

“If Mom and Dad don’t get here soon, we’re going to have to leave the boys alone.” Her voice was serious. Her look told me she was in a great deal of pain. I ran back into the house for one last item, and as I returned her parents had just arrived in the driveway.

I jumped in the driver’s seat, and Debbie climbed in the front seat next to me. I noticed she had placed a towel on  the seat beneath her. I backed out of the garage and sped down the driveway. Debbie told me to call the hospital so I dialed information for Germantown Methodist Hospital as I raced through our subdivision. From our door to Highway 70 is approximately one mile. When we reached the highway, Debbie told me I had to HURRY! I stepped on the gas, and we careened westward toward Germantown Parkway. I spoke to the hospital, and they told me they would be waiting at the door. At the light at Highway 70 and Germantown, I barely braked to make the turn, and Debbie was annoyed that I slowed at all.

Less that .10 mile down Germantown, Debbie informed me that we needed to change our plans. We weren’t going to make it to Germantown Methodist, we’d have to go to St. Francis-Bartlett instead. I again picked up the cell dialing 9-1-1. Then, I accelerated to approximately 90 MPH and turned on my hazard lights. There was only one other car on the road, and it was heading toward me. I knew it was a Bartlett police officer, but Debbie warned me not to slow down for ANYTHING! We were NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! The cop passed me, made an immediate U-turn, and chased me with lights flashing (I don’t know about the siren). I never slowed except to turn.

The 911 operator was less than helpful. (You don’t ever want to have an emergency in Memphis!) As I explained my wife was in labor, we were switching hospitals, and I was presently being chased by the Bartlett Police, the operator told me I’d have to call the hospital myself to let them know we were coming. There was nothing she could do to help me. I thanked her for not being at all helpful and promptly hung up the phone. MEMPHIS!

We slowed slightly to make a curve in the road, and then raced across the parking lot to the St. Francis-Bartlett Emergency Room entrance. I slammed the car in park and dashed through the hospital doors screaming, “Come help! Come help! My wife is in labor, and she’s having the baby now!”

Nobody moved. Apparently, husbands tend to overreact when their wives are in labor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overreacting. What Debbie had failed to relay to me was that while we were racing to the hospital, the baby had crowned.

“HURRY!” I screamed. “She’s having the baby NOW! This is her FOURTH baby!”

Suddenly, everyone moved. Three or four nurses came running out to our mini-van. One was pushing a wheelchair. (Behind my van sat the Bartlett police officer. When he saw me enter the emergency room door, he patiently waited in his car. When I returned with medical staff in tow, I yelled to him that my wife was in labor. His only response was “Okay then, I’m gonna go.” He put his cruiser in reverse and was never heard from again.) A nurse instructed Debbie that she’d have to get in the wheelchair. My wife’s response was that she couldn’t–the baby was already crowning. The nurse told my wife that she had no choice, and they would look at her as soon as she got inside.

The nurses helped Debbie into the chair and wheeled her inside but not before getting the chair stuck on the door. They rolled her directly into triage. A nurse lifted up Debbie’s dress to see how far along she was and shrieked, “THE BABY”S COMING NOW!” (Duh!) They rolled her behind the first curtain, and the admittance attendant asked me to go with her to get Debbie checked in.

As the attendant and I made about five steps down the hallway, I heard a nurse scream, “OH, MY GOD! She hit the FLOOR!” I turned to see nurses scattering in every direction. One in particular had her hand covering her mouth s if she’d  just witnessed something awful. I raced back to see what had happened. I didn’t know whether Debbie had collapsed, the baby had been dropped, or a nurse had fainted. My heart leapt. It was 3:04 AM.

Reaching the curtain, I saw my daughter, purple and crying, on the floor in the corner of the room. Blood was everywhere. Debbie was crawling onto the gurney, and the nurses were frantically trying to move the wheelchair out of the way to get to the baby. I ran to the other side of the curtain and jumped over a trash can to try to get to Debbie’s bedside. I shouted, “Are they okay? Somebody, tell me they are okay!”

Nobody said anything. They were as panicked as I. They looked at me, and someone gave instructions for somebody to get me a chair, but I leaned against the wall and declined. I just wanted them to take care of Debbie and the baby.

The attendant, who had followed me back to the curtain, reached out, grabbed me by the arm, and said, “Dad, we have to get them admitted. Can you please come with me?” I reluctantly obeyed.

Within five minutes, Debbie’s paperwork was in motion. She and the baby were moved to room 228. The attendant asked me a few really important questions like: “Is Church of Christ still your religious preference?” and “Do you know if your insurance covers our hospital?” Meanwhile, I still needed to know whether the two most important women in my life were okay.

Soon, we’d finished. The attendant led me to Debbie’s and the baby’s room, and Debbie quickly reported that she was okay. The nurse was examining the baby who appeared to be undergoing her first tanning appointment. I asked the nurse if my little girl was okay, and she responded that as far as she could tell the baby was fine.

For the next 30 minutes, I bounced between Debbie’s bedside and the side of my tanning newborn. Debbie explained that when they tried to move her from the wheelchair to the gurney, the baby had entered the world by falling to the cold floor and sliding under the wheelchair into the corner. The umbilical cord had snapped. Apparently, my daughter is a natural break dancer. Over the next two hours, the baby was thoroughly poked and prodded, and Debbie finally delivered the placenta and was feeling much better. By all accounts, mother and child were doing just fine. In fact, one nurse mentioned they were perfect.

Debbie was ready for another shower. So as the grandmothers, who had just arrived, together with the nurse and my bride made their way to the shower, I sat in the window seat, held my daughter close to my chest, thanked God in my heart, and bawled like a big ol’ baby.

I’d love to say that in the middle of all the chaos I had the faith to immediately drop to my knees and pray, but I don’t have that kind of faith. My faith is more of a “do-what-you-can-as-best-as-you-can-and-trust-that-God-is-here-somewhere” kind of faith. Saint Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by pure fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” I have no idea why my heart and soul were put through the ringer during that little girl’s birth. However, as I hold her, I am trusting God will watch over her because I KNOW there’s no way I can. That’s already proven true.


This post was originally written on August 22, 2007 following the events of August 21. I’ve posted it a few times before, and I’m sure I’ll post it again. Today Evelyn turns 7. I asked her if she’d just stay six for another year and consider it a “victory lap.” After all, she’s gotten pretty good at being six. She responded, “Nope. I’m going to turn seven, but it’s okay because I still like to snuggle.” I’ll take it. Life is good. Life is most definitely good.

To Be a Better Teacher, a Better Person

a better personI live an extremely privileged life. I know I do. My life hasn’t always been easy, but it certainly has been privileged because of things I’ve had little or no control over. I’m male. I’m white. I’m heterosexual and married. I’m upper-middle class, and the majority of my education has been in private schools. My current employer is an independent, Christian school for boys. As I mentioned, I’m privileged.

The news out of St. Louis last weekend that an unarmed, young black man was shot multiple times and killed by a Ferguson police officer has angered and frightened me, and it has made me extremely sad. I haven’t followed the unfolding story as closely as I should have because what I have seen and read has been gut-wrenching. It’s been easier to focus on the first week of school–to think and talk about something else. Honestly, I just don’t want to accept the world is the way it is. I want all to be joy and peace and love.

And yet. . . we I need to think about it. I need to SEE, HEAR, TASTE, and SMELL the realities of racial prejudice. I need to FEEL the injustices so many face (and that my life of privilege protects me from). I must KNOW the fight of those less privileged. I must UNDERSTAND the friction they regularly face. I must EMPATHIZE with the fears and frustrations they bear. I must find a way to fathom all of this, so that I can FOSTER CHANGE.

There are several people who help me do this. They not only make me think; they help me see the world through a different lens. A lens I need to look through regularly. Their words and stories are immensely valuable to me, and I want to amplify their important voices. You should give them a read:

Jose Vilson – When Can We Talk About Race? and Adults, Please Get Out of the Way

Rafranz Davis – Conversations with My Son Regarding the Mike Brown Murder and The Dehumanizing of Black Boys at School

Chris Lehman – What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying?

John Spencer – If This Is the Goal of Education . . . 

There are others I probably should mention, but these folks, in particular, challenge me and make me consider the world differently. They shift my understanding. They make me a better teacher–a better person. And my students deserve a better me.