Monday, July 15, 2013

Slice of Life – July 16, 2013 Experienced Hiking

Ruth Ayers and Stacey Shubitz 
host "Slice of Life"  on their 

I’ve climbed these mountains before.  Since they are popular fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 feet) near Denver, and this is a Sunday, I know to get there early.  6:25 at the trailhead is just on the edge of late, but I manage to find a spot on the side of the dirt road just below the full parking lot.  Five others cars pull up as I tighten my laces and pull on my pack.  I pass the trailhead sign, cross the bridge over the rushing creek (must have rained hard yesterday) and step onto the wide wet trail.   The round trip I have in mind will take me along nine miles of trail and loose rock, include a vertical gain and descent of 3600 feet and take me to the tops of two peaks, each over 14,200 feet high.  While I have climbed twenty-seven different fourteeners, several of them twice, it has been a three years since my last one, and I’ve never climbed one alone.

My first years teaching, it seemed that every interaction I had with a student, parent or staff member was a potential disaster.  What is the best way to get those two kids to stop talking without getting attitude back or making them feel too embarrassed?  Does that parent want to talk with me about their child because they think that grade is my fault?  Is it my fault?  

It always amazes me how quickly walking on a mountain comes back to me.  With a larger hike that will test endurance, little things do add up to make a significant difference by the end of the day.  I pick my steps carefully, trying to find the most efficient way up the mountain.  Logs or lines of rocks cross the trail at an angle to divert water so the trail doesn’t become a stream during a rainstorm. Stepping up on them means stepping back down as well, and a few extra calories will be wasted.  I step over them.  It is impossible to not step on loose rocks and I am aware that they can easily cause me fall and suffer a variety of injures that would ruin at least my day.  But knowing how to step on them is the key.  With the right pressure in the right spot, loose rocks hold steady and can even assist me in my next step.  I step confidently, purposefully and almost automatically as I gain altitude.

Teachers in most schools are generally contained in their classrooms, some seeming to live an almost hermit-like existence.  Getting the confidence to step over the threshold of my door into other classrooms was a challenge.  But when I did, I discovered how much teachers support each other with time, resources and opportunities to blow off steam.  I have always found mentors when and where I needed them. They have provided lesson plans to adapt and whole new strategies on teaching that expanded my worldview.  I learned what worked for me, what was worth experimenting with and when to find new resources.  But most importantly, I learned that to cultivate my skills as a teacher, I needed to be part of the community.

I set a steady and relatively quick pace for myself early on.  The first few minutes of a hike are always tough as the pack may need adjusting, a layer may need to be added or removed, or a boot fine-tuned to avoid a blister.  Several groups of hikers are stopped making corrections in the first mile and I pass them.  It’s not a race but it’s nice to be moving fairly quickly.  I slowly gain on a woman in front of meand while I am hiking a little faster than her, she is moving at a nice steady pace.  I pull in behind her and strike up a conversation.  It is nice to chat while walking through this beautiful landscape and I know that I’m not going too fast if I can walk and talk at the same time.  She claims to hike like a tortoise, slow and steady, but I think she hikes more like the Terminator; she just keeps on going.  We walk together for almost an hour and eventually I know I need a short break and a snack.  Upon seeing nice rock ahead, I let her know and before she continues on, we shake hands and formally introduce ourselves.  After a five-minute break, I continue forward and catch up with her fifteen minutes later.  The path is steeper, the break has refreshed me and with a nod and, “See you at the top,” I move on ahead.  Her steadiness has inspired me and I pace myself so well that my next stop is the top of the first summit.
With fifteen years of teaching under my belt, I plan for each year earlier and earlier.  While the bulk of my work happens during late July and August, I usually have done much of the thinking and processing the previous school year.  I know what I want to change in my class, or what skills I want to improve and focus on.  Being a better teacher for me means always trying new things and increasing the tools I can use to empower my students in their learning.

**Note – I started this piece expecting to relate the slice of a recent hike to what I have learned as a teacher.  As I wrote, it kept changing and wanting to be more, and yet, it is not finished.  But I have posted what I have so far with the expectation this will become a different piece after I revisit it.  Perhaps it will be an example of revision for my students and I can rewrite it while they are working on their own writing this year?  As far as the hike goes, I had a wonderful time, climbed both mountains and even got down in time to catch a few trout in the creek.  I walked mostly ahead of the crowds and yet I still had dozens of positive interactions with people.  It was a great day!


  1. And there is a strong connection between those facets of your world. We are all stronger and better when we connect with and support each other even though we walk the "walk" on our own...lovely piece this morning

  2. What wonderful connections between your hike and your teaching life! I plan to borrow these words, "Being a better teacher for me means always trying new things and increasing the tools I can use to empower my students in their learning," to explain my teacher journey to friends who think I should have this figured out after sixteen years of teaching.

  3. Love the connection between hiking and teaching- the way you moved back and forth works really well. And I agree with your comment- this could definitely be a longer post- maybe even something bigger than that. And it's great to see another Denver slicer!

  4. This drew me in with the lessons learned and being learned in hiking and teaching. You have captured this pull of our writing sometimes when it wants to lead us into surprising paths. Writing is so powerful and so good for us when it does that. I think it is then we discover our unique voice.

  5. I loved hearing about your hike, Max, and then connecting with teaching. It's so often interesting when we write what ideas bubble to the top that we hadn't considered before. Thanks for the reflection!