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Better Than Good: Helping Students "Run To Sun"

There's no better feeling for a student than to feel confident in the classroom, like they're running downhill with the wind at their back.
There's no better feeling for a student than to feel confident in the classroom, like they're running downhill with the wind at their back.

On my morning runs there’s a specific point, around the third mile, where the slight, yet, grueling, uphill climb begins to even out and give my hamstrings and lower back some much-needed relief. This is right around the time when the morning sun begins to show itself, rising above the desert dunes like a kid peeking around the corner during a game of hide-and-seek. Run To Sun, has become a mantra of mine.

It’s perfect. My breathing is in sync with my body and my form feels smooth. I feel no pain, just my feet hitting the pavement, keeping time to the beat of big music from tiny ear buds.

Whether you run or not, we’re all familiar with this type of perfection, where everything seems to be going our way. It’s when we get up on time, maybe even a little earlier, and we hit the ground running. We feel productive, confident and everything seems to be in sync. Even the kids are alert and following our leads, their school bags are ready to go, papers and agendas have been signed.

I’ve learned to not take these moments of perfection for granted – because we all know the feeling of hitting the snooze button one too many times, driving slightly faster through a school zone to get the kids to class on time, “Daddy I forgot my agenda,” yada, yada, yada…

Our children, our students, experience these types of ups and downs in the classroom. I recall one of my old students who experienced this type of roller coaster on a weekly basis. One week he was a terrific student, always on time and always focused; the next week was the complete opposite.

His hair was disheveled, the smile on his face turned into a scowl. The kid was like Jekyll and Hyde. And it wasn’t until I called both his parents in for a conference that I realized what was going on. Here was a child, 9 years old, who had to take turns living with his divorced parents every other week. When he lived with his mother, all was great in his world. Shirts were ironed, hair was combed the tight way, homework was always turned in, problems double-checked, etc.

Needless to say, the kid wasn’t getting the same attention when he lived with his old man.

Although I couldn’t tell the father how to raise his boy and overstep my boundaries, I knew that I could dictate what went on inside of my boundaries, my classroom. The way a trail runner has to adapt to changing weather and terrain on a run, I had to adapt, to change, the way I approached the student during his “off weeks.”

You have to realize this: I was in the first month of teaching; the only context I had were those teachers who taught me when I was a kid. And I have to tell you, I had the best of the best as well as the worst of the worst (one teacher straight up punched me in the chest). I had to better than this.

I had to better than good.

So I learned to be more patient with this kid. I gave him responsibilities, like taking the attendance slip to the office, "be my eyes" when someone pulled me into the hall and other errands. I made sure to provide him with a little “cover” whenever I thought he might need it. I don’t know if I’d call this special treatment as much as I’d like to think that I was giving the kid a break. Why add another layer of worry on top of the tough divorce his parents were going through?

This student was just one of the 29 in my fourth grade classroom at St. Pius X (Go Rams!) that taught me more than I could ever teach them. And this particular case, this boy taught me about applying the kind of empathy I only wish some teachers provided me when I was in school.

Lastly, that experience made me more appreciative of the teachers who actually did give me the latitude, the airspace, I needed when times were tough. In their own ways they helped me Run To Sun! I mention some of them in the book, TheHappyManifesto – Three Rules For Happier Students. These were the teachers that practiced that all-important First Rule of Happiness – Always Be Better Than Good!


Was there a student who made a positive impact on you? Comment below or send me an email to keep the conversation going!

For more information on easy strategies that we can employ to help our kids succeed inside and out of the classroom, check out the book, TheHappyManifesto – Three Rules For Happier Students. It’s an easier-than-easy-to-read resource designed to help us parents and teachers navigate a world in which we were given no instruction manuals.

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© 2019 Phillip D. Cortez


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