My dad took up bicycling in the 1970s. Biking with 10-speed bikes. No one biked with 10-speed bikes back then! I was a swimmer, so ever since I was ten years old, I was always in good enough shape to go for a thirty-mile bike ride. So my Dad would take me. We’d go on Saturday rides around the great state of Arkansas with other wackos who were part of the biking world back then. I loved being with my dad, and I liked the bike riding. But we often went past forty miles, and I will say, I was not always happy when we did.
I have great memories.
- I remember coming into a country store around lunch time looking for a sandwich. The store didn’t sell sandwiches, just groceries. But the owner opened up a loaf of bread and a package of bologna and a bottle of mustard, and charged us for the portion that she used. Pretty cool.
- Our family of six (four kids – ages 16 to 11) went biking for three weeks in Ireland, camping half the time and staying in B&Bs half the time. It was a lifetime experience that warrants its own set of stories.
- The last time I took a big trip with my Dad was about 20 years ago, when the two of us went biking in the San Juan Islands. It was a fantastic trip where we camped the entire time. Once again, my Dad was in better shape than I, but he dragged me along. That’s us below.
One of many memories of biking with my dad is one that occurred quite often. We would be biking in the afternoon of an all-day ride, somewhere in the Ozarks. The Ozarks are beautiful and certainly not as high or steep as the Rockies or Sierras. But I will tell you, there is a lot of uphill. I would be grinding up a hill and ready to take a break, when my dad would say, “Mike. I promise you. This is the last hill.” There is something about hope that gives you strength when you did not think you had it. I would plow to the top, only to see nothing but hills, hills and more hills on the road ahead. I would say something angry to my dad, who would say something like, “I said that this is the last big hill.” OK, it was a lie. But you know what, it made me get up that hill. I could have chosen to stop at that time (I’m not sure how I would have gotten home), but I always chose to go on. Being pushed and pulled towards greatness is an essential ingredient of improving and achieving greatness.
Peter Senge called it “Creative Tension.” Liz Wiseman has her “Rubber Band Theory.” Steven Covey had it in his goal setting and “saw sharpening” activities. When we are being pushed to improve, we are at our best. It’s why people have a personal trainer. It’s why I swim in a master’s program. I would be very happy swimming a mile in the pool at my own medium pace. But for the last 15 months, I have been in a pool with people much faster than I am, where a coach pushes me to swim two miles at paces much faster than I want to. You know what has happened? I am stronger and faster. I now look for the hills on my bike rides and I look forward to swimming difficult sets, because they are beautiful, they are challenging, they are different, and because they make me stronger.
I hope we as educators view things similarly. Although it is comfortable to keep swimming the same evenly-paced mile or keep biking the same relatively flat and short path, we do our best when we push ourselves, or when we have colleagues or mentors who push us to try new things, or push to improve. We are better teachers when we do not settle for most of the students learning the material, but we insist on doing what it takes to help all students to learn it. We do better when we treat every lesson as a chance for greatness. It is why I believe so much in professional development. We are in the learning business. If we as teachers are not constantly learning, we are serving our profession poorly. Believe me, I know that teaching is hard. Teaching is a full time job without adding any time for professional development. But so is being a doctor. We have to make time for learning. We have to push ourselves up the hill. We are better teachers for it, and more importantly, our students gain tremendously.
And I would say it’s impossible to do it alone. For me, throughout my life, my father, my mother, my mentors and my coaches have pushed me to being better today than I was yesterday. And I love it. And sometimes,when I think I cannot go on, I love that I still choose to believe it when someone says to me, “This is the last hill.”
Thanks for reading,
Michael D. Matthews, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Manhattan Beach Unified School District