Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

Education Opinion

Why Every Educator Needs to Run a Marathon

By Guest Blogger — November 15, 2019 4 min read

Marilyn Anderson Rhames is the founder and CEO of Teachers Who Pray, a faith-based nonprofit that has more than 165 chapters nationwide. She taught for 14 years in the Chicago public schools, after spending her early professional career as a journalist for outlets including People, Time, and Newsday. Marilyn is also the author of The Master Teacher: 12 Spiritual Lessons That Can Transform Schools and Revolutionize Public Education and serves on the design team for Harvard University’s Leadership Institute for Faith and Education.

I am a marathoner. I just earned that title after running the Chicago Marathon last month. What was my time? I finished.

Anyone who seeks to understand American public education needs to run at least one marathon. Yes, pounding the payment for 26.2 miles is painful, time-consuming, frustrating, and a bit insane, but so it is for millions of students who take the journey from kindergarten through high school. Let me explain:

Marathon Training is Like Pre-K to 5th Grade

It takes a dedicated regime of stretching, running, hydrating, getting the proper nutrition, and resting to prepare the body to endure the beating it will get from running a marathon.

Well, pre-K to 5th grade is where our students should get the fundamentals of education that will carry them through their entire schooling career. They need to learn phonics and number sense (stretching), develop independent reading habits, writing, and the ability to do basic mathematical operations (running), solve problems and think critically (hydration and nutrition), and be allowed enough downtime to relax and play (resting).

When the training isn’t sufficient in marathon running or school, the results can be disastrous.

The Start Line is Like the First Day Middle School

The first day of middle school is probably the most exciting and anxious day of a kid’s school career. You’re geeked that you’re finally there. You’re all grown up now, not a baby anymore. But at the same time you’re worried, a bit panicked even, about how all this is going to turn out.

That was me on race day. Like a middle schooler, I had laid out my race day outfit (with shoes and socks), racing bib, water bottle, and nutritional snacks the night before. When I got to my starting corral, the crowds of spectators were also there and the energy of the event was super positive. Total strangers were rooting for me, holding signs that said, “You are just so great!” “You’re so awesome!” “Goooo, you!!”

Running (and Learning) While Slow

I thought those signs were for me, but 10 miles in I knew that they really weren’t. Those signs were for everybody who ran fast enough to see them. You see, the crowds came out in the low 40’s weather, with a windy, five degree wind chill factor to cheer on the marathoners for two reasons: 1) To see the wonder of 90,000 legs of all shapes, colors and sizes barreling down a city street. 2) To catch a glimpse of their mom, dad, or best friend who was running an epic race to that free banana at the finish line. In fact, a few of my own friends shouted out my name around Mile 3.

By my half-marathon point, the elite, competitive, professional runners had already gotten their medals two hours ago, and half of the people who had started running after me had already passed me up.

I’m a slow runner. Slow runners, like slow learners have it hard.

By the time I reached 15 miles the race was literally shutting down. Race organizers began to taking down the porta potties and making the water stations few and far in between, too. The crowds had dissipated. Trash was everywhere in my path. Streets and sanitation vehicles were driving alongside me, cleaning the streets with their noise and lights flashing.

The last mileage sign I saw was 18. After that I had to ask police officers for the number of miles because all the marathon signage had been removed. At one point, for a stretch that felt like two miles, every police officer told me I was at mile 21—so frustrating!

At one point they moved the runners to the sidewalk to re-open street traffic, then later they allowed runners back in the street, alongside the big blue street cleaning trucks. At one point I thought, “I’m trash. Just sweep me up too.”

Just when I wanted to give up—my feet were burning and my legs were locking up—I’d see a woman standing in the street handing out Tootsie Rolls and then another on the curb with a big jar of Jolly Rangers, saying “You’re almost there. Keep going!!”

At mile 24ish, I met a young man who was leaned up against a fence, grimacing and holding his knee. Asked him if he needed a medic. He said no. I looked him in the eye and said, “You have two options: Get on a stretcher or finish the race!”

I slowed walked the rest of the race with my new, limping friend David. The official finish line had long been disassembled, so we came through the narrow, undescriptive gate on the side.

Marathoning and American Education

If you want to know about American education, look no further than my marathon experience. I didn’t have an elite track coach (teacher) or a professional team of pace-setters (tutors). The crowds that told me I was great in mile 1-5 (education advocates) were nowhere to be found at mile 20. I couldn’t even get a sip of water or find a place to pee for miles (decent learning facilities). My help came from women from the neighborhood who understood the struggle (community organizations). The city of Chicago couldn’t wait for slow runners like me; they were removing all signs of the race while thousands of people were still running it. I was too slow for the Chicago Tribune to publish my finish time.

So if you really want to know time (my standardized test score), it was 8 hours and 18 minutes. I guess that makes me 2 hours behind grade level, but it doesn’t matter. I’m still a marathoner!

Marilyn Rhames

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
Larkspur, California
Tamalpais Union High School District
Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read