Today, I ran my first ever 5K. A few months ago, if you'd have asked me if I could do this, if I could run a race without stopping, without walking, without wasting away, I would have chuckled and changed the subject. You see, I am not a "runner." I will never be a "runner." Don't get me wrong; I run. But for me, "run" is a verb. It's not an identity. It's not a part of who I am. "Runners" live in Under Armour and Saucony's. "Runners" have long, sinewy legs devoid of cellulite, taut arms and tummies, and perpetually determined looks on their faces, right? How could I ever include myself among this exclusive pack?
Except, somehow, I think I am. One race down - 31:44. A respectable time for a someone who couldn't run a half mile without stopping a month ago. On top of that, I have two more races (so far) lined up for the next few months, and a goal of a half-marathon in December. Sure, I still have some cellulite to speak of, and probably will for life, and I tend to prefer Nike to Under Armour. But I ran a race today. I finished a race today. Without stopping, without quitting, without ever even entertaining the thought that it couldn't be done. Suddenly, the whole concept is morphing in my mind. Perhaps it's more than a verb for me, this "run" word. Perhaps it's actually a growing part of my identity.
Kind of like how I'm almost a "teacher" now. (Yes, you had to know a runner/teacher analogy was well on its way.)
Over the past few months, when I've been introduced to someone new and they've asked me what it is I do for a living, I've responded with some sputtering, random variation of the following: "Well, I just finished up a year-long teaching internship and I will eventually be an English teacher." And just like that, I throw all potential recognition of how hard I worked last year, how much I've actually taught thus far, and what I have become out the window. Am I not an English teacher because I have yet to find full-time, permanent employment? Does the paycheck define me more than the work I've put in?
Well, no. Of course not. But if I say that I'm a teacher, won't people ask me where I work and what grades I teach and all sorts of perfectly logical questions that I am not currently in a position to answer? Well, yes. Of course. And then I'll eventually have to back up and tell them that actually, I don't have a "real" job yet. Granted, I'm locked in for two long-term sub positions next year, for which I interviewed and was selected from among a pool of other applicants, and for which I will be paid (although sadly not in the realm of what permanent teachers make). But still...does this count? Am I a fraud if I call myself a "teacher"?
These are the thoughts that have been permeating my brain all summer, and they haven't been put to rest with the acquisition of the subbing opportunities. Similarly to my inner fear over calling myself a "runner" as opposed to "someone who runs," I find myself unnerved by the thought of labeling myself a "teacher." It seems ludicrous when you consider the time, money, effort, and desire I've invested in this whole thing for the last ten years, but there it is. After all this time, I just don't feel worthy yet. My whole life, I've put real teachers on pedestals, admiring their tenacity and struggles and triumphs and thus raising them to a bar that is near impossible for me to reach even now. The same way I've cruised down local surface streets just past dawn and felt pangs of inadequacy watching "runners" go by, I think of all my great "real" teacher friends, most of whom are former colleagues I've watched in action, and worry I'm sort of a fraud. "Teachers" live in comfortable shoes and drink more coffee than I ever could. Their students are devoid of wonder over where their lessons are going, they are always on top of their grading, and they know how to unjam copiers. I mean, I can teach, but I will never be a teacher. Right?
[Insert the sound of every experienced teacher letting out a hearty, collective "BWAHAHA."]
Except, somehow, I think I am. You see, being a runner and being a teacher have more in common than a required affinity for comfortable shoes. Just as the thought of myself as a "runner" has been difficult to come to, the thought of me as a "teacher" is too, because it demands a gradual change. One job offer or paycheck or similar factor does not the title create, and a little piece of me thinks that even if I had a full-time, permanent job in my dream school, I wouldn't yet feel 100% confident in using that term just yet - and that's okay. It'll come naturally, in its own time, when I feel I've sufficiently earned it. Until then, I'll continue plodding away at my training miles, increasing my pace every so slightly over a number of weeks, and eventually, I'll arrive at the first of many finish lines. Without stopping. Without quitting. And without ever entertaining the possibility that it can't be done.
Gosh, I need new shoes.