Chicago Marathon 2017 Race Recap

Race #135
Marathon #10
State #7
Illinois Marathon #7
2017 Race #18
2017 Marathon #2
Chicago Marathon #1
Marathon Major #1

I enjoyed this race so much.

Going into this race I had three goals
A (extreme reach) – BQ – sub 3:35
B (reasonable reach) – Chicago Qualify – sub 3:45
C (reasonable goal) – sub 4 hour, technically sub 3:56 aka 3rd fastest marathon

After my test half a month ago, I decided that the A goal was pretty much off the table unless all the stars aligned. With the alert level at moderate, I took that goal off the table completely.

Then at Charlotte when I earned that 1:50 with relatively easy effort, I decided that a 3:40 would be completely reasonable. With better weather, I’m sure that would have been a slight stretch but doable.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

We arrived super early. I ended up waiting a while without my jacket since Mom couldn’t come closer to the corrals with me. I didn’t mind that much and had enough time to cycle through the relatively short portopotty line twice. (The longer lines occur at the portopotties inside the corrals. I stood in that one for a little while, just in case, but then ended up heading back out to the corral. I stood relatively near the 3:40 pacer thinking that I would try to run with that group and just drop off if the pace ended up being too fast.

I lost the pace group early on but didn’t stress. Instead, I switched my screen over to the heart rate screen aka the blank screen and left it there the entire race.

I decided to run by pace and not worry about anything else.

I struggle with remembering minute details about many of these miles, especially the early, really good feeling miles. The one thought I do remember had something to do with thoughts of turning my music off since a lot of the time I could barely hear it.

I also decided to take Gatorade at every water stop, starting at the first one. I even managed to drink it while running, a major feat for me. I barely spilled anything on myself. When I did, I just wiped my face to get some sweat and then rubbed my hand so it wouldn’t stay sticky. A tad bit gross, I know.

I also really enjoyed having my name on my shirt. Laura came up with that idea and provided the duct tape, sharpie and handwriting. Every so often I would hear a cheer for “Jeni!” At one of the hydration stations, I even got a “Jen-nay” as in Forest Gump.

Mile 1: 8:33
Mile 2: 8:07
Mile 3: 8:17
Mile 4: 8:10
Mile 5: 8:18
Mile 6: 8:32

For some reason somewhere in mile 7, doubts started to creep into my head about my ability to finish the race. I still felt great. The temps had yet to heat up. These doubts come in to just about every one of my long distance races. Thankfully these lasted just a few miles and I continued on the race, on pace, for the next several miles.

Mile 7: 8:45
Mile 8: 8:41
Mil 9: 8:45
Mile 10: 8:47
Mile 11: 8:42
Mile 12: 8:45

In the 12th mile they handed out Gatorade Chews. I have used these before so I grabbed a pack but waited until I crossed the halfway point before I managed to get the pack open and pry out two chews, barely getting the second one out. If I had any criticisms of these chews (which are actually my favorite out of the various brands I have chosen) it would be that the packages are notoriously difficult to open, especially while in the middle of running a marathon.

By this time, the temps had started to warm up. I started to notice this when I no longer had to wipe the sweat off my face. That’s never a good sign. I still felt relatively good and strong. Plus, I looked forward to just before mile 16 where Laura and Aaron would be spectating in front of one of their friend’s houses.

After crossing the half marathon mark, I started trying to remember which side of the road I needed to be on. Even though I asked specifically, my running-drained brain could not remember. Thankfully, I picked the right side and got a nice boost of energy when I passed by. Laura noted that my speed increased after I passed them. Ah, that wonderful placebo effect.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

Mile 13: 7:57 (I should have not been going anywhere near that fast.)
Mile 14: 8:13
Mile 15: 8:39
Mile 16: 8:53
Mile 17: 8:47

During the 18th mile, my legs started to feel fatigued, not fatigued due to lack of fitness but heat-induced fatigue. I wondered how I would be able to make it to the finish at this pace. A temporary boost of energy came from a rude runner who side swiped me somewhere within the mile. Arm bumps happen, especially in a race this size. Every time that happens, I say “excuse me” or “sorry!” If it happens to me, the other runner usually says something similar. Not this time. I muttered “excuse you.” She shot back. “It’s a race, honey.” The “honey” is what did it for me. That’s what galled me the most. Afterwards I wish I had been able to think of something like “It’s been 17 miles and I haven’t run into anyone yet.” Instead, I just shot back , “when you run into someone, you say something.” She simply glared at me and kept running.

This indignation fueled me for the next couple miles, almost to mile 19. That’s when the heat started to get to me. I knew it would likely be a bit of a slog to get to the finish. I thought about walking at mile 20. I walked a little but my stride felt weird so I started running again. I thought that I might walk at each mile marker but by the time I got to mile 21 I thought that I would definitely make it to mile 22. That was a mistake.

Sometimes during this these few miles my left big toe started to hurt which perplexed me a bit. Recently, I had twice developed a blister on the big toe side of my second toe. It only recently healed so I decided to put a bandaid over the sensitive area, just in case. This turned out to be a terrible idea. When I finally took my shoes off, I discovered the the bandaid had rubbed a nice dime-sized section of skin off of my big toe. Yeah. No wonder it hurt. (I’ll spare you a picture.)

I definitely had slowed down by this point.

Mile 18: 8:52
Mile 19: 9:09
Mile 20: 9:06
Mile 21: 9:40 (reflecting the walking at mile 20)
Mile 22: 9:05

I barely made it to mile 22. I cannot believe that my pace was that “fast.”

I ended up walking at the water station just beyond mile 22 and ended up walking through the entire hydration station. I took two cups of Gatorade and then two cups of water. I wondered then if my sub 4 hour goal was fast flying out the window. I wanted to check my Garmin but refrained.

From there, I tried to pick the pace back up by my jog was barely a jog. I ended up walking through each water stop save the last one which also happened to be the only one I did not take hydration at.

I wonder if miles 23 – 24 had some sort of incline. I thought I might have to seriously slog to the end. After mile 24 and a half or so, my legs started to feel decent again, not great mind you, but enough so that the idea of jogging through the final hydration station became a possibility.

I did wish that my duct tape name had stayed on through the whole marathon. I really did try but somewhere between miles 17 and 23 it blew right off. Yeah, that’s marathon brain for you.

I managed to jog through the end not looking at my Garmin until after I crossed the finish line and stopped the time.

Mile 23: 10:13
Mile 24: 10:17
Mile 25: 10:10
Mile 26: 9:38
Last “.2” 8:40
Final time: 3:55:49

Chicago Marathon 2017

Even with the heat, I am more than pleased with how well I ran this race. I think my training lacked what it would take to get to a BQ. If the weather had cooperated, I think that this race would have been my second fastest race rather than my third.

I had so much fun running this race! I can’t wait to run it again, whenever that may be.

Marathon Retrospective

This coming Sunday, I will run my tenth marathon, a milestone deserving some reflection.

When I tell people about my upcoming milestone marathon, they speculate that I must have been running for a while. In some respects, I have dedicated quite a bit of time to running. In other respects, I have called myself a marathoner for only the past six of my thirty-two years.

This journey began back in 2009 when I set foot in a gym for the first time. A casual comment introduced me to Spinx Run Fest, the site of my first half marathon and full marathon. I decided to run the half marathon in 2010, doubting that I could actually complete the distance. this doubt persisted even after I finally registered three weeks before race day. In the middle of that race as my mind wandered through the miles, I realized that the following October, I would be 26.2 years old. That thought planted a seed that took root in fertile ground. The roots dug deep.

I registered for that first marathon the first hour of registration. I stumbled through the training, making my fair share of rookie mistakes. However, I crossed that finish line and became a marathoner, finishing less than a tenth of a second under five hours. I knew when I finished that one was not enough.

I thought that marathon #2 would come the next November after I took advantage of an 11/11/11 sale and registered for the Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon. Instead, after reading someone else’s musings about being thought crazy for running two marathons in a year, I decided to up the ante at one of my May half marathons and go the full distance. Marathon #2 in New River taught me that this marathon thing might just be right up my alley. Even with a last minute training plan chance to bump up the mileage, I shaved twenty-four minutes off my first marathon time.

Marathon #3 taught me the power of mantras and the importance of hydration. Even in approaching winter, Savannah maintains humidity. My mantra for that race was “I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.” (Bonus points if you can name that move.) That marathon still bears the distinction of being the only marathon I have ever run completely without music. At the time, I planned to run a trail 50k a couple months later.

Then came marathon #4, San Francisco. After running first the first half marathon and then the second half marathon, I had to run the full. Not only that but I also made the audacious goal of making San Francisco my first sub 4 hour marathon. I met that goal even though the odds seemed to stretch out of my favor in the last 10k. I also lost my first toenail. (It’s also the only toenail I have ever lost.)

I ran my first really big marathon for #5 that fall when I ran the Marine Corp Marathon. I had big, in retrospect too big, goals of qualifying for Boston. Instead, the beginnings of what, so far, has been my only injury a mere week before the marathon cropped up and grabbed my attention. I learned how to deal with unexpected curveballs with humility as I crossed the finish line with a nearly identical time as San Francisco three months before.

I took time to regroup and put off my next marathon, #6, until the fall of 2014. I got a coach, a new type of training plan and headed to the Twin Cities to a marathon that is still one of my favorites. I learned that I had improved as much as I could on my own; it was now time to reach for more experienced help. That extra help paid off. I shaved off another ten minutes.

Marathon #7 took me across the Atlantic to the Eternal City. I started under the shadow of the Colosseum, ran across cobblestones slick with a light drizzle, smelled the “stinky man from Bologna,” marveled at the splendid opulence as I ran through St. Peter’s Square and finished back where I started with a time that still today is my PR. That marathon taught me that I could do this. I came so close to that ever elusive BQ with marathon #7. I giddily registered for Chicago and continued to push forward. I ended up with a distal hamstring strain. Although I trained smart, I had underlying structural issues that finally came to a head. Chicago 2015 was not to be.

Once I, with a lot of help, started figuring things out and rebuilding, I wanted redemption. Marathon #8 taught me that I could still do this. I enjoyed Tobacco Road even though for the first time on my marathon journey, I went “backwards,” time-wise.

Marathon #9 took a lot longer coming due to major life changes that started the week before Tobacco Road. I wanted to run another marathon in 2016 but I knew that I wanted to make my return to the classroom my priority so instead I trained for and ran the Hilton Head Island Marathon with Mom. Marathon #9 taught me that tackling this sort of training with someone else often exceeds expectations of marathon running enjoyment. I learned that putting my goals aside for the sake of someone else brings much greater rewards.

Even though I have yet to run marathon #10, I have already learned a lot. I have become a smarter runner. I have learned to adjust to ridiculous weather and a lack of AC at work after 3:15 – the district turns off A/C at that time in all the school buildings to save money – and the subsequent exhaustion. I have learned that rebuilding takes time, especially rebuilding the right way. I have learned to hold loosely to my goals so that a slower than expected time doesn’t completely crush me.

Here’s to marathon #10 and to the ten that follow!

We Can’t All Be Bad Teachers, Can We?

A new coworker expressed this thought a couple weeks ago when a few of us gathered to chat after school. Sometimes we call these “vent sessions” or “unloading.” This particular session stemmed partially from decisions out of our control.

This year the administration decided to split the school on the basis of test scores. Each grade level has two teams, one titled “G/T – Gifted/Talented,” the other “Inclusion.” Although not formally labeled as such, this boils down to a research-disproven method called “tracking.”

This single decision has already acted as the proverbial pebble dropped into the still pond with further ripples yet to come. Some of the potentially adverse consequences already visible are as follows. First, the students have already begun to internalize the unspoken labels, especially those on the “inclusion” team. Second, classes lack the diversity of ability levels that has been proven by research to benefit lower-performing students who teeter on the brink of improvement. Third, almost all of the neediest students, from English language ability to those with a variety of learning disabilities, are grouped in the same classes. At some point, not every student in the class can have preferential (ie front row) seating. Fourth, everyone looks askance at the teachers on the G/T team if they express any sort of issue. “But you have the good kids!”

Then comes the biggie, the assessments. I touched on this several weeks ago and want to return to it briefly.

This split system means the following with regards to the assessments. For the inclusion teacher, she faces the daunting reality of a roster full of students who did not meet state standards, did not even approach meeting state standards. She, thus, has the Herculean task of bringing students who score so low on reading tests that they do not have a lexile level. For the seventh grade English teacher that means trying to teach things like context clues when every word is unfamiliar or teaching them how to analyze a text they cannot read.

Some of the G/T teacher’s students deal with some of the same things too. Many of them scored much higher but that is relative in a school like mine. The baseline, unspoken, unconscious expectation for the G/T teacher is that she is expected to bring the students all the way up to grade level and possibly beyond. Don’t get me wrong. That’s what I want for them. I also want to set them up for success, not failure. When we express frustration, or try to tailor to the abilities of our students, we’re met with that question I mentioned earlier.

Then comes planning and pacing. Both of teachers for each grade level, especially the inclusion teacher need time to reteach material. After all, each time the administration talks about the required benchmarks or similar subjects, they stress to us the importance and requirement of reflective teaching. Look back on your lessons. Figure out what went right or wrong.

We would love to do that and would actually do that, save for the pacing guide. In those same meetings, although not directly connected, the administration also stresses the importance of sticking with the pacing guide or else. Last year, I nearly got reprimanded for being two days behind the pacing guide, only weeks after two snow days. On top of all that, administration expects us to move at the exact same pace as our partner, even with the split in academic levels of the students.

All of this leads to potentially extensive frustration and burn out. Not all schools have these same issues. Some schools have similar ones. Some have issues completely foreign to these. That being said, these issues all point back to a bigger issue, that of evaluation of teacher performance based on student abilities as measured by assessment data alone.

Teachers internalize this. From the very beginning of our education in teaching, this is ingrained in us. This can produce beneficial results. A good teacher is a reflective teacher. We look at each lesson in light of how the lesson benefited or did not benefit the students. This is how a person learns and grows. This beneficial process becomes distorted when the assessments measure the wrong thing. When a teacher is repeatedly told that success equals mastery, the color red and the word “remediation” signals the poor performance of the teacher, not the student. Thus, the comment that the serves as the title for this post.

This post addresses a systematic problem in education. As such, I have no satisfactory answers. I want to find them though. Our students deserve that.

Race 13.1 Charlotte 2017 – Race Recap

Race #134
Half Marathon #42
North Carolina Half Marathon #7
2017 Race #17
2017 Half Marathon #7
Race 13.1 Charlotte Half Marathon #1

I had no intention of running another half marathon two weeks out from Chicago. Then I registered for 13.1 Greenville and got sucked in with the offer of additional bling. If I ran both Greenville and Charlotte, I would complete the “I-85 Challenge” and earn an additional medal. I am a sucker for half marathons, especially with extra bling.

Originally Mom was going to go up with me but I forgot to mention that unlike the race two weeks ago, this race took place on Sunday, not Saturday. She had a meeting at church which she had to attend. I almost said “forget about it. I’ll just run in Greenville on Saturday.” I wasn’t super keen on driving up to Charlotte and racing on my own. However, I decided to go ahead and go.

Emily, Ellis’ oldest daughter, lives in Fort Mill, only 20 minutes from the race start. She graciously opened her house to me so that I could drive up Saturday night.

After a good night’s sleep, I headed over to the start, ready to run.

Unlike two weeks ago, I had no specific plan for this race. I thought about trying to maintain an 8:30 pace (my new marathon goal pace) rather than an 8:00 pace. When I checked to see which pace groups would be available, I decided to just run by effort instead of trying to stick to a specific pace. I have found that when I am in charge of making myself run a certain pace, I check my Garmin far too often which makes it much tougher mentally.

Although I started a little further back than I would have liked, congestion was not a problem.

We started on time and headed out on the course. Since I did not have a specific goal other than a vague sense of running at an 8:30 pace, I did not take the time to look at the course ahead of time. I assumed that it would be a straight out and back like Greenville two weeks ago.

A few rolling hills populated the first few miles, nothing too terrible.

Mile 1: 8:15
Mile 2: 8:02

Somewhere in the third mile we entered the trail. This race had just about every possible type of surface. On the trail we had boardwalk, pavement, cement, and hard-packed gravel/dirt at various points. I liked the switch up of surfaces. Plus, the trail section was absolutely gorgeous. So pretty.

Mile 3: 8:20
Mile 4: 8:24
Mile 5: 8:22

A little after we finished the fifth mile, we exited the trail and headed back out onto the road, mainly through various neighborhoods. I had just started to wonder if maybe the course wasn’t a straight out and back because I hadn’t seen any signs for the mile markers that we would pass coming back.

We exited the trail onto a terrible hill. Absolutely terrible. I knew it was going to suck. I told myself to slow down, to let it suck and then be over with. The problem with that? The hill felt like it lasted forever. I ended up walking a little as I approached the summit but only because my legs had just about had it.

As soon as I arrived at the summit, I started running again and never looked back, figuratively speaking.

I felt a little mentally exhausted in those early miles, like I wanted to go back to sleep. (Well, I actually did want to go back to sleep….) Sometime after that hill in mile 6, I forgot about the need for sleep (until time to write this post, of course).

Mile 6: 8:56 (Stayed under 9!)

The rest of the half felt really good. I settled in to what turned out to be an average 8:20ish pace and felt strong. The scenery continued to be beautiful, even the neighborhood portions. My body forgot the earlier exhaustion and instead remembered all the training I have put in.

When the turn around came a couple miles later than the half way point, my earlier suspicions of a quasi-loop, quasi-out and back course were confirmed. As the runners started coming back, I counted the women to figure out my standings. At the turn around I was the 34th woman. I decided to make a goal of finishing at least in the top 3p women.

Mile 7: 8:40d
Mile 8: 8:15
Mile 9: 8:33

I still felt good and now found myself on the homestretch. After we passed mile marker 11 and had only 2 miles remaining, I decided to see how many people I could “pick off” aka pass before I got to the finish line.

I also breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that we would not have to tackle that monster hill again.

As I came through the final miles I felt strong. My legs felt prepared to run this pace, a pace that if I could translate it to the marathon would put me coming in roughly around my PR. Wow. I am so happy to be back at this level, potentially. It’s been a long road back (which I’ll save for a later post.)

When we made the final turn for the finish line, I still had gas in my tank and a guy just a little bit ahead of me. Why not? I poured on a full-fledged sprint and beat him to the line!

Mile 10: 8:34
Mile 11: 8:17
Mile 12: 8:22
Mile 13: 8:13
.19: 6:57
Final time: 1:50:32

I am absolutely thrilled with this time and extremely glad that I decided to go ahead and race. Much needed Chicago confidence boost.

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
Race day packet pick up went off without a hitch! Everything was well laid out, just like Greenville.

Race Shirt
This shirt looks just as awesome as the one from Greenville. This one does not have “FINISHER” on the front. I look forward to adding it to my collection.

Prerace/morning (evening) amenities
The start/finish location, although in a parking lot, was decked out by the race organizers complete with a DJ and customer support tent. (This was the same as Greenville.)

Course and course support
I really enjoyed this course. Race 13.1 had plenty of monitors and police out making sure runners went the right way. The only tricky section came near the turn around when we went acros a bridge that was barely wide enough for two runners. This wouldn’t be a problem for most of the course but this bridge was in the out and back portion with runners going both directions.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
The start and finish line were well stocked with the DJ still going strong. All sorts of things were available from water to fruit snacks to Papa John’s pizza. Now, I like pizza just as much as the next person but I do not understand the appeal of room temperature pizza at 9 in the morning. I am an odd duck though. (This is the same as Greenville.)

Official photography should be available within a few days. (Same as Greenville)

You could not escape from this race without knowing your results. Not only do they text you but they have an instant results tent where you can look up your bib number and print out your results including age group breakdown. It also updates nearly immediately. (Same as Greenville)

Connotation versus Denotation

As an English teacher and an author, words are my area of expertise, my happy place. My love for words goes way back. I often revel in the rich texture and complexity of words, the layers of connotation added by culture and personal experience.

Recently, I once again delved into discussions of connotation and denotation with my seventh graders. This concept often flies straight over their heads, the first time at least. Each time I teach this concept, I learn how to convey the information a little better. This year I related to my opening monologue and current mantra, “words have power.”

How do words wield that power? From what source comes that power? Simply put, words wield that power through connotation, the source of its power. We each bring our cultural associations and personal memories. When wielding that power we also need to be aware of the context in which we speak, deferring to our fellow human beings, whose story we do not know.

When teaching this lesson I asked how we would know the connotation of the words people speak to us. They correctly identified facial expressions and tone of voice. I then asked how we would know if those words were written down, not spoken. They struggled with this but gradually figured it out. We discern the connotation of a word based on what surrounds it, the context clues.

So many people struggle with understanding connotations, even adults, some may say especially adults. The day I taught my seventh graders briefly about connotation, my dad posted an article about the gentrification of Greenville. I happened to see this as I scrolled through Facebook and stopped to read the comments after a completely egregious response caught my attention.

This man made blanket, sweeping statements, as he often does, about a people group concerning the cause of their poverty. As I responded, I pointed out the connotations of his words and the logical fallacy of his argument. Each time he responded, he persisted in devotion to a distorted interpretation of the denotation of the word “most.” Not once did he acknowledge that other people have personal memories and emotions tied up in those sweeping racist aspersions cast under the cloak of the word, “most.”

I came away from that conversation full of pity and sorrow for this man I have never met in person. I have no idea what it must be like to live in a world devoid of color and meaning. This conversation, that at times brought me nearly to baldness, deepened my own understanding of connotation. When a person takes the time to pause and examine the context in which he speaks or listens not only will that person derive deeper, fuller meaning, but he will also develop compassion for and empathy with the other conversation participant, a fellow human being also made in the image of God.

By slowing down to ponder the connotation another person brings to the conversation, I lower myself. I do not persist in the fallacious belief that I have all the right answers. I do not push down others in an effort to prove that I am right by hammering others over the head with a dictionary. “Christmas” means a whole lot more than “the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25th in the Western Church” to someone who lost a loved one on that day.

It’s hard to build a relationship with someone if all you care about is proving your point. It is even more difficult to share the amazing grace of the Good News to a person who believes that you care nothing for their struggles. In the end, yes, connotation is a literary term taught in schools from upper elementary school through college. I could memorize what it means and even how to “use” it on a test to guess the meaning of a word. However, when I slow down and ponder its power and implications, I come away challenged to put others first, to listen well.

Words Have Power

The night before the first day of school I had my second brilliant eureka moment concerning this school year. The idea turned into a monologue that set the stage for what will no doubt be my best school year yet.

During our last teacher workday my principal held up a handful of pencils and told us that we would find some in our box the next morning to give to the students. Although those pencils failed to materialize, that comment planted the seed of an idea in my mind.

As I attempted to calm my mind enough to sleep, I started to imagine what I would say to each class after I handed them the pencils. I often daydream like this, perhaps it’s my overactive mind’s way of burning off all the excess thoughts spinning circles up there. What started as a half-formed thought became one of the most amazing moments of my teaching career so far, an experience repeated in each class period.

I introduced myself with a few pictures and then told them that I was about to introduce them to ELA. I walked over to my desk and picked up one of my own mechanical pencils.

“What is this?” I asked.

“A lead pencil,” many of them answered, unsure of where I was going with this.

“It’s pretty ordinary right? I could probably break it if I wanted to but I don’t; I like my pencils. What if I told you this is the most powerful tool in the world?”

When I paused for effect, no one answered. I had them right where I wanted. The feeling was so surreal. That level of engagement, which continued to deepen, nearly overwhelmed me. I have trouble thinking of another time that has ever happened in my classroom before.

I continued.

“This pencil can be wielded to write words and words have power. Take for example, my name. I’m sure that most of you thought it difficult to pronounce when you first read it on your schedule. Who has ever heard of Armenia?”

Unsurprisingly, not a single student had. When I asked if any had ever heard of the Khardashians, it was a far different story.

“Armenia is a small country to the east of Turkey. Remember Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire from social studies last year? Well, back during the time of WWI, Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire, an empire that was dying. A new group gained power and decided that the way to fix their country was to get rid of everyone who wasn’t Turkish or Muslim.”

I had literal chills at this point when I looked out and saw the connections being made in the minds of my students, connections to history or perhaps even current events.

“Over the next four years between 900,000 and 1.5 million Armenians perished in what is considered to be the first genocide of the 20th century. My great-grandparents came to this country mere years before this started but I grew up knowing this tragic history by heart. My parents divorced when I was 10 so I grew up with my mom’s family, the Armenian side. I didn’t inherit the looks or the name but I wanted so much to identify with my heritage. I went to a lawyer, paid several hundred dollars and then my request went before a judge, all to change my last name. That’s just one word, right?”

“But words have power!” many of them responded.

“Yes! Words have power. That’s what ELA is all about this year, learning how to wield that power responsibly.”

I get chills just remembering that moment, that moment that carried outside of class when another teacher told me that a student had talked about the fact that words have power.

As I step back and reflect on those moments, I realize that this may have been the turning point for me, the point when I became passionate about the weighty prospect of teaching English Language Arts to these amazing kids. This year will, hands down, be the best year yet.

These words have power.

Race 13.1 Greenville Race Recap

Race #133
Half Marathon #41
South Carolina Half Marathon #30
2017 Race #16
2017 Half Marathon #6
Race 13.1 Greenville Half Marathon #1

I went into this race with the goal of making this a test race for Chicago training. At almost exactly a month out, this race fit perfectly into the schedule. Of course, I also want to run all the half marathons and having this new race in my “backyard” means that I would be here to run this regardless.

Mom and I pulled into University Ridge at 6:30. This turned out to be exactly the right amount of time. From the moment we walked up to the start area I was impressed. The organizers had everything set up with very little confusion possible. The time passed by speedily thanks to an excellent DJ and a quick moving portopotty line. There were a few people that tried to bypass the line and come around the other side, right as I was about to walk up to a recently emptied one. One guy even opened a door where a person still sat inside. I told him, “there’s a really long line dude.” He looked up, saw the line and said, “Oops.” I just shook my head.

When Mom asked me when I expected to finish, I hedged and told her, “definitely under two hours, maybe under 1:50.” I did not tell her that I planned to find the 1:45 pacer and stick on him like glue for as long as I possibly could. I had no idea how long I would be able to stay with him, which is why I hedged.

Race 13.1 Greenville 2017

Right on time, 7am, we were off. We headed down the hill from University Ridge into the Park and onto the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I knew that hill would suck big time at the end of the race when we had to come back up.

Race 13.1 Greenville 2017

That first mile felt like a cluster. I tried to stay with the pacer but so many people jostled back and forth, somehow unable to find their pace. One guy who had been running a couple steps ahead of me for a few tenths of a mile suddenly looked to his left, saw a gap and took off like a gazelle leaping to the left around the pacer between a couple other people and off in front of them. It looked like he was the ball in a pinball machine.

After that first mile we settled in and headed down the Swamp Rabbit Trail towards the Zoo. This meant that we would go through the section that has been closed for construction for months. I used to hate that janky bridge that crossed the river down there. The bridge consisted of metal grates that bounced as you ran over them. Several other times that I have run through that section I have slowed to a cautious jog over that bridge. The janky bridge survives no longer. Wow Greenville. This section looks so impressive and they aren’t done yet! It will be beautiful and there will be bathrooms on the trail! That’s something the downtown section of the Swamp Rabbit has lacked for a while.

We reached the turn around for the first section around mile 1.5. The gradual uphill began here. The only thing I kept telling myself was to keep with the pacer. Keep with the pacer.

If I want to BQ at San Francisco next year, I need to incorporate serious hill work in my training, especially with regards to mental toughness. Greenville hills have nothing compared to San Francisco.

That was when I first started entertaining thoughts about dropping back from the pacer.

We had already started some conversations though which kept me connected. The pacer asked if we had any first timers or veterans. I said that I was running my 41st. The pacer reached back with the 1:$5 sign and joked, “here, you should take this.”

David, the pacer, told us that he ran even splits and he was true to his word. All of my splits when I ran with him *spoiler alert* were within 7 seconds of each other.

Mile 1: 7:56
Mile 2: 8:00
Mile 3: 7:57

Once we turned onto the portion of the Swamp Rabbit that headed towards Furman the incline started to level out and I got my legs back under me. The next several miles felt like a honeymoon portion. I felt fairly good even though my legs started to protest, gently. I ignored my watch and let David do the thinking.

We talked off and on throughout these miles which I enjoyed. The miles passed fairly quickly although as we approached the turnaround, not quickly enough.

Mile 4: 7:55
Mile 5: 7:55
Mile 6: 8:01
Mile 7: 8:04

We all felt like we lost a little momentum on the tight turn around just before mile 7. This is also where I started wondering just how many miles I would be able to stay with the pacer. I kept telling myself, “get to mile 8. Get to mile 9. Get to mile 10.”

Then came the hills just beyond the Swamp Rabbit Cafe. In the grand scheme of things these hills are barely inclines. When pushing for a pace that’s faster than normal in the back half of a half marathon, these hills can prove to be mountains.

I stuck with the pacer up these hills but my legs held onto the increased effort feeling tight and heavy. I just couldn’t shake it. I had come this far. A little more than 2 miles remained until the end of the race. My legs did not want any of the encouraging words David offered at that time. They clung steadfastly to the pain of the hills and would not let go.

Mile 8: 7:59
Mile 9 7:56
Mile 10 7:59
Mile 11: 7:56

When I passed the Mile 11 marker, I dropped to a walk and dropped away from the pacer.

The last two miles could best be described as a “struggle fest.” I do not regret it at all. I knew I had chosen an ambitious pace. By holding on as long as I had, I had almost guaranteed a sub-50 time.

I ended up walking again at 11.5 but then told myself to power through until the end, only 1.5 miles left. I could do this.

Then came the hill I dreaded from the moment I saw that the race started and finished in the parking lot at University Ridge. This is the hill I knew as we ran down in mile one would challenge me right up until the finish line.

When you reach this hill, all you have left of the race is a little over a quarter mile yet I had to walk again.

Once I made it out of the park I picked it up again. With the finish line now in sight, I could do this. I pushed as hard as I had left and crossed the line meeting my secondary goal, sub 1:50.

Mile 12: 8:22
Mile 13: 8:49
.2 nubbin 9:43
Overall Time: 1:46:47

Results Race13.1 Greenville 2017
I like those numbers!!

I really, really, really enjoyed this race. I hope they keep coming back to Greenville.

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
While I do not remember much about the actual registration, packet pick up went off without a hitch. I loved the location in Union Square, much easier to find than the location from 2012. I don’t even remember where that was. Oops! That was from a different race.

Race Shirt
I haven’t put the shirt on but I love the bright yellow and the technical fabric. My only complaint was with all the people wearing the shirt before the race started. The shirt has the word “FINISHER” in giant letters on the front. Clearly people, you have yet to finish the race. Yes, I am just a bit OCD.

Prerace/morning (evening) amenities
The start/finish location, although in a parking lot, was decked out by the race organizers complete with a DJ and customer support tent.

The ending hill nearly kills you although not as much as the one in the last .2 of the Marine Corps Marathon. Other than that, the Swamp Rabbit Trail provides a nice flat-ish course with a few rollers just challenging enough. Greenville runners certainly are spoiled to have the Swamp Rabbit Trail in our backyard.

Course Support
Race13.1 had plenty of pacers, which I obviously took advantage of. The out and back format of the race with plenty of runners provided a cheering squad of runners. It’s so cool to be able to cheer on people both in front and behind me. The water stops were well stocked with volunteers doing a great job.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
The start and finish line were well stocked with the DJ still going strong. All sorts of things were available from water to fruit snacks to Papa John’s pizza. Now, I like pizza just as much as the next person but I do not understand the appeal of room temperature pizza at 9 in the morning. I am an odd duck though.

Official photography should be available within a few days.

You could not escape from this race without knowing your results. Not only do they text you but they have an instant results tent where you can look up your bib number and print out your results including age group breakdown. It also updates nearly immediately.

Statistical Manipulation

On August 28, 2017, the Greenville News published an article on the salaries of many administrators in the Greenville County School District, my employer. I do not, however subscribe to the Greenville News and thus discovered the article two days later.

I will start this entry with a disclaimer. I hold no personal grudge against the Greenville News. Before reading this particular article, I have found their work to be as objective as a news organization can reasonably produce. In fact, not a single sentence written in this article could be considered opinion.

As a historian, however, I have spent years examining and evaluating sources. IN my current role as a 7th grade English teacher, I teach my students how to examine and evaluate that which they read. After all, words have power, even words which compose factual statements or are expressed in numbers rather than letters.

In this essay, I highlight a few examples of how statistics and numbers can be manipulated both by arrangement and by omission. These facts also carry additional overtones by way of word choice. I will quote the article heavily and will also include a link to the online version so all can see the complete edition.

The first line of the article also serves as the title. “More than 100 administrators earn six figure salaries in Greenville School District.” English grammatical convention expects that numbers ten and below should be written in words. Anything higher should be expressed in numerical format. Curiously, the author, Paul Hyde, chooses the connotation laden “six figure salaries” rather than, perhaps, “more than $100,000.”

Mr. Hyde then continues to add up the numbers of the salaries of the top 100 employees. Anyone capable of basic math could figure out that 100 $100k salaries would total $10 million. Obviously, a lot of money in the Greenville County School District is allocated for salaries, a foregone conclusion for a school district this large. The district employees 10,000 people. Next, Mr. Hide points out that none of the district’s 4,000 teachers make a six figure salary. This fact is also common knowledge based on the publicly available salary schedules on the district website. (I have included the link below.) By placing this fact directly after the statement concerning the $10 million total for administrator salaries, Mr. Hyde implies that administrators earn far too much money. Nowhere does he acknowledge the fact that the increased responsibility of administrators on all levels which should indicate increased compensation. The only caveat Mr. Hyde presents is that “teachers often work on 190-day contracts while many administrators are contracted for 245 days.” Even this fact obscures the reality that both teachers and administrators work far more hours than stipulated by the contract without additional compensation.

Then there is the numbers presentation that first brought this article to my attention. As I mentioned earlier, the author presents the number of 4,000 teachers. Only a few paragraphs later, the author states, “[m]ore than 3,300 Greenville County Schools teachers and administrators make $50,000 annually or above.” This number unfairly lumps together two sets of employees paid on completely different salary schedules and thus implies that many teachers also earn too much. (I will address this further in the next paragraph.” In fact, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree would have to work 17 years to earn above $50,000, a teacher with a bachelor’s + 18 credits, 15 years, a Master’s 11 years, a Master’s + 30 credits, 8 years and a Doctorate, 4 years. Most teachers enter the profession with a bachelors. By comparison, an administrator almost always earns above $50,000. Only the administrators at the lowest level of responsibility with the least amount of experience earn below that mark. After three years, all administrators earn more than $50,000.

Mr. Hyde next presents median household income in South Carolina as well as per capita income in the state. These numbers, $47,238 and $25,627 respectively, are both invalid comparisons for the following reasons. First, the population sets compared do not match. Both numbers include all households in South Carolina, not just the households with earners that hold at least a 4 year degree, a requirement for all teachers and administrators. The per capita number includes ever person of working age, those 15 years and older. Per federal law, minors are not permitted to work full time jobs which dramatically lowers the per capita number. This population also includes those who do not work. All people employed as teachers or administrators obviously are gainfully employed.

The article concludes by listing each of the top 25 earners in the district by name also giving their job title and annual gross salary. I have long known that my pay as a government employee is public knowledge. Why do taxpayer funded positions not deserve the same right to privacy, should they want it, as anyone that works in the private sector? Granted, my personal salary could be discovered only if I either told the amount or someone knew my education level and years of experience. These 25 people did not even have that much privacy.

This leads me to my fundamental issue with this article. Why? Why did Paul Hyde write this article and the others focused on the other upstate school districts administrative salaries? In the Facebook responses to this article, when people asked this question, Mr. Hyde and the Greenville News repeatedly responded that they had a moral obligation to “shine a light” on the allocation of taxpayer funding. When anyone can access all of these pay schedules any time on the district website, I fail to see the need for anyone to “shine a light” This “light” ends up becoming a blinking strobe light in a fully lit room, blinding anyone who looks in that direction.

This article creates a distorted picture not through inaccurate or false facts but by careful juxtaposition and omission. I end with a two-fold plea. First, to Paul Hyde and the Greenville News, as journalists, please strive to maintain objectivity in your facts as well as in your presentation. Second, to the reader, read deeply. Examine the text. Ask why. Only then will you understand the whole story.

Salary Schedules
Greenville News Article

When Funding Falters

I teach in a Title 1 middle school. Those in education know the lingo. Others likely have little understanding of the label and its ramifications. Certain subjects hog the spotlight. Poverty, especially in a region of growing affluence, is not one of them.

Title 1 provides additional funding for schools with significant populations of students from low-income households. Title 1 was first enacted as part of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The program provides funds to the school district which are then distributed to the schools. Greenville County School District is the largest school district in the state of South Carolina and the 44th largest school district in the nation. Out of the 21 middle schools in the district, three receive Title 1 funding: Berea Middle, Lakeview Middle and Tanglewood Middle. All three of these schools are located in the area generally known as West Greenville, home to some of the highest poverty neighborhoods in one of the more affluent counties in the state.

Why does all of this matter?

This funding provides critical resources that benefit the students tremendously on many fronts: academic, social and physical. These funds provide for the salaries of additional teachers to lower the student to teacher ratio. It provides funds for afterschool tutoring sessions and summer programs to help bridge the summer brain drain. These funds enable the schools to host health clinics and vision screening so students can get glasses and see the board in the classroom. These resources, when properly administered, help bridge the gap that poverty creates.

This year, as I stated in the title, the funding has, euphemistically, faltered. Certain upsides and downsides come with living and working in such a large school district. The size of the district means that the schools within its purview have access to a wealth of resources that smaller districts lack. However, a huge downside comes from an ostensibly wonderful thing. Over the past few years, one would have to hide under a rock to miss all the buzz about Greenville’s revitalized downtown and impressive economic growth. What has been largely overlooked is the inequitable distribution of that growth. Gentrification has begun around downtown Greenville which has pushed and continues to push low-income households into areas they can afford, mainly the west side of Greenville. I suspect that this movement also spills into surrounding, lower-income counties. This economic growth means that Greenville’s median income has risen. When that number gets put into the Title 1 funding calculator, out comes a number $3 million less than last school year.

The funding faltered. Who pays the price?

The students.

The median household income of our student body did not increase in a commensurate amount to the six figure additional Title 1 funding our school and the other twenty Title 1 elementary and middle schools would have received. Our Title 1 facilitator now has the unenviable responsibility of trimming everything she possibly can without causing harm. It’s like she’s forced to play a game of giant Jenga with the blocks already placed in positions with just enough support to remain upright on a windless day. So far, we know that our afterschool program had to be cut. The summer programs will also likely face the ax. Few, if any, teachers and administrators will be able to attend professional conferences which enhance their skills in the classroom. I’m sure much more that I am not privy to, has also been nixed.

Lakeview, however, is immensely blessed to enter its second year of partnership with a local charity startup, the CURA Foundation. These wonderful people have stepped up in a major way to provide so much like extra uniform clothing for needy students, winter coats, local field trips and even prize giveaways for teachers during teacher appreciation week. They also provide intangibles like mentorships and this year a partnership with Greenville Tech to open the door to advanced manufacturing. Students will learn about the profession, training and scholarships for Greenville Tech. I ams o excited for my former students to be given this opportunity.

As absolutely amazing as this is, these wonderful people cannot plug the gaping hole of a six figure funding cut. Few single individuals or charities have the ability to do so. That is one big reason that I have a huge problem with the Libertarian small government ideal but that is a topic for another post.

I have painted a rather bleak picture. Reality lacks rose-colored Instagram filters. I am not discouraged. If anything, I am energized, nearly overflowing with ideas of ways we could bridge that gap. Like I mentioned in my post on homelessness, the whole problem is not something I can tackle and solve as if I am Wonder Woman. I can, however, make the difference in at least one child’s life. I will, this year and all future years fight like Wonder Woman for these kids. I will not give in to pessimism and defeatism. I will set high expectations for them and do whatever I can to push them higher despite the faltering funding.

For example, towards the end of the year last year, my principal asked the English and math teachers to pick one of the bubble kids, kids so close to meeting state standards, to work extra with, motivate them to peak performance on the upcoming state tests. I chose a student in my lowest class, a student that several of us saw performing well at the beginning of the year but had subsequently struggled with attendance and self-esteem issues. I’ll call him Barry. So many times Barry told me that he know he was going to fail this test or that. He immediately dismissed any comment of mine to the contrary. I don’t know how many people, if any, ever told him that they believed in him.

As soon as I saw Barry’s name on that list of bubble kids, I knew he was the one I would target. I started by pulling him aside one day and telling him that I believed in him. No matter much he tried to deny it, I believed he could and would succeed. I kept reminding him, even when he decided to act all embarrassed or try to shush me before I could say it.

We got the state test scores back a couple weeks ago, the day I originally wrote this post. Barry popped that bubble. He met state standards. My heart about burst when I saw that. I cannot wait to find him once school starts and tell him, with a smile, “I told you so!”

This is why I continue to teach, why I am so passionate about education. This is why I will fight for my students and pay out of pocket for things when the funding falters.

This budget cut will not spell failure for our students. Why? I am just one member of a team full of people with the same or similar drive and passion for these amazing kids. Each of us will fight like Wonder Woman or Superman for them.

Back to School

Today marks the first day of my fourth year of teaching or year two of my teaching career reboot. I am excited for what this year will bring.

For the first time I feel confident. This time around I know the curriculum and the school. Every positive lesson I documented in my reflection provides incredible benefits for the upcoming year.

Last week I walked back into the building, ready to get things started. I greeted everyone I saw with a cheerful “Good Morning!” I headed to my new room with all of the things I took home back in June. I couldn’t wait to get my book cover posters laminated and up on the walls. I had to make a couple trips to bring everything in but I didn’t mind; I needed the steps.

Normality opened the door about half an hour before we met as a staff in the cafeteria. A fellow teacher walked over to my room with me and shared some information gleaned from the previous day, a day when many chose to come in to start the preparation process. Nothing she shared breached any written or unwritten codes of conduct. The conversation simple reminded me of habits I formed last year.

That cracked open door swung wide open during that afternoon’s department meeting sending cynicism careening through the open doorway. I realized with alarm and a bit of shame that my first reaction to a change in lesson planning or a new requirement was negativity. I, the all-knowing, knew without a doubt that whatever it was would not work and would simply add undue burden to our already overworked workload. (Sarcasm. obviously.)

Each time these thoughts intruded, I caught myself with a sharp, silent, “stop that, Jen!” I prayed for wisdom and strength from God to battle the all-powerful temptation. That night I went home and prayed extensively. This school year would not start out on that foot.

Wednesday dawned, a brand new day. We started with department meetings where my new cohort partner and I dug into planning the first unit of the year with one of those tools I had too easily dismissed the day before. God blessed me with another partner eager and willing to collaborate. Once I set aside the negativity and doubts, I started to get excited.

With Thursday came our back to school event where I met many of the children who will no doubt change my life over the next school year. I greeted a few of our old students, no “big men on campus” eight graders. I nearly finished my classroom preparation when I fired up the hot glue gun and hung forty book cover posters that I DIY-frugal-weirdo produced for the win. After I placed the last poster and stepped back, I felt like the room had gone from simply a room with some desks in it to my classroom. I feel more at home in this room than I have in any of the other three rooms from which I have taught.

I know that things will not always be easy. I know that administration will hand down weighty directives. I know that our test scores are low and with that comes increased pressure. I know that this year I will undergo ADEPT formal evaluation for the second time and with that comes additional workload and pressure.

Most importantly, I know that the almighty, omnipotent God who holds me secure in His hand, will provide all the strength and wisdom I need.