Thursday, July 2, 2009

Doubling down

"... the No. 1 most predictive trait [of success as a teacher] is perseverance, or what we would call internal locus of control. People who in the context of a challenge — you can’t see it unless you’re in the context of a challenge — have the instinct to figure out what they can control, and to own it, rather than to blame everyone else in the system."

-- Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive of Teach for America
Full interview in the New York Times

I just finished my first weekend of real running, and in a stroke of serendipity I also came across an interview with Wendy Kopp in the New York Times this Sunday. The above quote really stuck with me. After this weekend, I get the feeling perseverance might be the No.1 predictor of my success as well.

The theme of the weekend was doubling. Today, I ran my regular route, Golden Gate Park from tip to tale, twice. Adding in a couple of loops around Stow Lake, I'm hoping that I made my 18 miles because, if not, I'm a little bit intimidated. By the end, even my insoles ached.

Friday was the real test though. I ran the Dipsea trail, and keeping with the theme of the weekend, we doubled it. So they say that fools rush in ... and in this case I definitely played the fool. A friend, Daniel, organizes runs for the Golden Gate Tri Club, and he suggested I join the crew for the run. 13 or 14 miles, it sounded pretty innocuous.

I showed up the next morning, and found out that things weren't as they appeared. Daniel forgot to mention that the run basically the run summits Mt. Tam, twice since we doubled it! He also forgot to mention that the last time the club ran the double dipsea it took three and a half hours. My normal time for a half is 1:30. I was starting to get pretty damn nervous.

The club got me through it though. They taught me how to pace myself for long runs, walking up steep climbs, managing my heart rate for the long haul, etc. They're great guys, and I'm looking forward to running with them more in the future. Still, I hope it gets a little easier with some training.

In a lot of ways, my experience in Teach for America was similar. The mission inspired me, but I had not idea what I was getting into when I signed up. And, similarly, I made it through due to the generosity of those more experienced than myself. James Abbatiello, Sarah Usdin, Elzy Lindsey, Jinan Sumler, the list of my mentors could take up its own blog.

Teach for America teachers also double down. Each commits to teaching two years, and in a lot of ways that second year is a lot like my second trip on the Dipsea. You're know more. You're better prepared, but you also now know what you're really up against. You succeed through perseverance. Wendy said it better than I ever could in the second half of the quote above.

"In this case, there are so many people who could be blamed — kids, kids’ families, the system. And yet you’ll go into schools and you’ll see people teaching in the same hallway, and some have that mentality of, “It’s not possible to succeed here,” and others who are just prevailing against it all. And it’s so much about that mind-set and the instinct to remain optimistic in the face of a challenge."

In a lot of ways Teach for America reminds me of Malcom Gladwell's latest article for the New Yorker, How David Beats Goliath. Wendy Started Teach for America to change the rules of a game that was unfairly stacked against some students. She graduated from college and tried to become a teacher in New York only to find it overwhelming. In her words,

"That’s what led me to realize: You know what? We should recruit people to teach in low-income communities as aggressively as people were being recruited at the time to work on Wall Street."

From there, its been all hustle. Thousands of corps members working harder in classrooms across the country to make a difference. David beating Goliath, one student at a time. Its how change happens, and its an inspiration to me. I hope it is to you too.

No comments:

Post a Comment