Getting Fit Made Me a Better Teacher

Training bodies -- and brains -- requires sustained effort.

June 22, 2015
Josh Ratliff
Technology coordinator

CATEGORIES In the Classroom

I thought my legs might fall off. It was October 31, 2010, and I was 22 miles into the Marine Corps marathon in Washington, D.C. Turns out, you can’t just wake up one day and decide to go run a marathon. Who knew? In all seriousness, I trained for my 26.2 mile run. My legs and lungs were well-prepared, but my head … not so much. Until that moment, I never fully understood the amount of mental toughness that is required to power through when your body wants to quit.  

There were 22,000 other runners that day, and I think we all learned a valuable lesson about the art of developing a sustained effort. Students today are used to instant gratification: movies on demand, instant messages, answers and information just a Google search away. When I was a teen, I used a 56K dial-up connection to download music. If I was lucky I could download two songs by morning. Now my students can download an entire HD movie in less than 10 minutes! With this kind of quick and painless access to information, it’s easy to see why kids get frustrated when they have to work at something that is difficult.

But not everything comes with instant gratification. If you want to get fit, sure, there’s an app for that. That journey is not without effort, though. The same is true with learning to read or learning to balance equations. There are lots of great apps for both, but success will require a sustained effort.

What if we could use the concept of fitness and healthy living to help kids develop the ability to delay gratification and sustain effort?


What can you do for your students?
Everywhere I looked on race day for the Marine Corps marathon, I’d see two marines standing close by yelling and cheering for me. A couple of times I thought, "OK, I’m going to die out here," but then a marine would scream, "Oorah, sir. Let's go! You’re going to make it! Get going! Don’t stop now!" Do this for your students: Lead by example. Get out there and get sweaty so you can be a model and cheerleader for your students.

Get Up!
Let’s get kids moving again. We all feel a little better when we can get up and move a little. Consider designing lessons that require kids to get out of their seats and move. When desk work is required, consider a stretch break every 40-50 minutes.

Make the Connection
Getting fit requires a sustained effort and a long-term commitment. So does learning to play an instrument or speak another language. Kids can apply sustained effort in all areas of their lives. No one wakes up one morning with the sudden ability to articulate Einstein’s theory of general relativity. That takes a sustained effort, just like running a marathon or dancing the Flamenco.

Getting and staying fit has made me a better teacher. I’ve learned to appreciate the struggle. When my students are faced with difficult concepts, I can more easily identify with their discomfort. I’ve learned that with sustained effort and a lot of hard work, almost anything is achievable!  

Photo "09a.Start.MCM.10K.NationalMall.WDC.26October2014" by Elvert Barnes. Used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.