on your marks

on-your-mark I lace up my spikes with unsteady hands and make my way to the starting line.  Girls with uniforms of all different styles and hues repeat their rituals—jogging in place, jumping up and down, stretching their calves—as calls ring out from the announcer and echo across the stadium. 

At last, the time comes: “Girls, find your starting places.” 

I shuffle over to my lane, carefully position my feet, look ahead, and take a deep breath.  As I wait for the next words of instruction, I face a barrage of questions: Why am I doing this?  Is it really worth it?  Will I be successful, or will I fail?

As a cross country and track runner in high school, I experienced this scenario more times than I can count.  At the start of each race, I remember doubting myself and my abilities, fearing the exhaustion that would soon overtake my body, and questioning why I was passionate about running.

Although I am no longer  a competitive runner, I can completely relate to my high school self as I approach the starting line of my second year of teaching.  With the first day of school only a week away, I find myself asking all the same questions I used to ask myself before a race.  Why am I doing this?  Is it really worth the effort? Will I be successful, or will I fail?

Before beginning my first year of teaching last year, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect.  This year, I find myself nervous because I do know what to expect – the unmotivated students who choose to fail time after time, the mornings spent worrying about what to teach and how to teach it, the nights spent praying for hurting students, the paperwork that is always waiting to be completed, the nervousness before giving a test, the tired feet, the weary heart, the feelings of failure and incompetence.

But, just as I stood at the starting line back in high school and remembered the glory of the finish line, I can’t help but remember the beauty of my job – the mornings with students already waiting outside the door to ask for help, the inspiration I find in my students’ passions and dreams, the celebrations of students passing a test or doing well on a paper, the times when students realize that literature is more than reading old stories written by dead people and that writing is more than simply words on a page, the laughter filling my classroom and the hallways, the appreciation, the encouragement, the fulfillment.

As I wait for the next words of instruction, I face a barrage of questions: Why am I doing this?  Is it really worth it?  Will I be successful, or will I fail?

Before I have time to answer, I hear “On your marks….Get set….Go!”

And all the fears racing through my mind seem to vanish with the smoke of the starting gun as I determine to do my best in this race and consider that a success.