I have loved riding bikes since I was a little kid in Aloha, OR shredding the dust in my one gear BMX bike. I remember the Christmas when I got a silver Schwinn with like 5 gears and I was apocalyptic. It was my favorite thing. I don’t remember much of the gifts my parents earnestly saved for but the bike stands out over twenty years later as I sit here, reflecting on my just finished hour long bike ride with my wife. I don’t know when in my childhood and teenage years I stopped riding bikes, but it happened. You can blame the desktop PC, probably. My dad was a computer programmer when we moved to Denver in 1992 and so I quickly became enamored with our own 486Dx266 that sat in the living room of our apartment.
For those of you young enough to have no idea what that means – it means this PC had a speed of 33-66 Megahertz. Compare this to the laptop I’m writing this post on has the processing power of 2.5 GIGAhertz. That’s 2,500 megahertz. Never mind that there are gaming desktops out there pushing 4 Gigahertz. And don’t even get me started on RAM, graphics cards and everything else. Just get off my lawn, you youths!
Kidding (mostly) aside, I’ve always had a love of biking. I bought a bike about ten years ago and used it off and on but with life and then eventually school, field experiences, and then student teaching it didn’t get used consistently. My university supervisor and my cooperating teacher both expressed concerns that I was working my various candles to the wicks end and that burn out was inevitable if I kept going without finding an outlet to let off steam. Spoiler alert – they were right. It’s advice I would give anybody going through the process to become a teacher – find one or two things you can do that help you take a break and let off the pressure that’s not going to stop building as you continue through field experiences, classes, and eventually student teaching.
For me, one of those things was my creative writing. I was lucky enough to take a Speculative Fiction class the semester before I stepped into the classroom – I had all kinds of ideas ready to continue writing or start anew in the few spare moments I was carving out. Letting my imagination run wild in the different worlds I was building and being able to step in and out of character moments I was breathing life into was a significant portion of my saving grace in getting through the gauntlet of student teaching. The trouble is you need a more than just one thing to break down the walls of stress and burnout. You need something physical to help transfer those burdens into burning fires in the heat of a workout, a bike ride, or a running trail. Maybe it’s a every other day gym routine. It could be yoga in its various forms or it could be a daily couple of laps around the school after that last bell. I’m not making a new claim – everyone from Teacher Twitter to veteran teachers to first years that I’ve talked to, heard from, or listened to have implored me to get back on whatever physical activity helps bring the release.
For me, it was the bike. So we’ve picked up some bikes, and have been riding them for the last week or so. I can tell you – the feeling doesn’t take long to return. The speed, the pedaling against the grain, the shifting of gears, and the wind in my face – together with the work my body is doing to burn away the stress and anxiety of the days ahead – it’s near nirvana. I’m headed to a rural city and I’m already planning on biking to work (it’s six minutes across town to my school!), biking in the early evenings with my wife, and making sure to do some long distance rides on the weekends to keep the work going.
Dave Stuart Jr. is one of my heroes and guys that I routinely look to as a model since my first year of teaching is but a few months away. I was lucky enough to meet him at the Colorado Language Arts Society Conference in 2017 and share my passions with him before he took the stage to impress upon us the importance of balance and so much more. He looked at me as I was waxing poetic about podcasting and all the things I wanted to do and he gave me a look and suggested I should take this hobby I’ve adored for years and start doing it on the side and slip it into my classroom when I can. He spoke at an additional breakout where he worked with current and future teachers about how to schedule our time and put a hard stop on the days work. He showed up at the National Council of Teachers of English in 2017 as well and had a similar message.
So I have – I’m five episodes into a slowly growing podcast. I sat down this week and reflected on the many things Dave talked about and I realized I needed to start applying his call for balance to my own life. I’ve got four books worth of curriculum that I need to start digging into but I also need to take some time to read some fun stuff that feeds my creative and fun brain – balance. I need to start setting hard stop times when it comes to work. The first days are two months away – and I need to be prepared to have those practices in place. I deeply desire to succeed as a teacher and (as much as I can with the help of those around me) avoid crashing and burning from never having been able to release the pressure that’s been cooking.
So my bike(s) are my actual bike, my creative writing, and my podcasts with future and present educators. I encourage you to find your bikes and fight to protect your time with them. Without something to breathe life back into you, you’ll end up drowning in the work.