Goals and Dreams—A Winning Team

Goals and Dreams—A Winning Team

From Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul

Goals and Dreams—A Winning Team

After relocating to the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, I was fortunate to be offered a fifth-grade teaching position. When I accepted the job, I was warned that I was being given a “tough” group with behavioral problems and real attitudes. Being excited just to have a teaching job after relocating, I wasn’t even discouraged after warnings from former teachers and parents alike.

The year started out like any other year. Expectations were set, and my single rule of respect was imposed. Within two weeks, I began to notice the attitudes I had been warned about. This was a diverse group of students who were intolerant to differences of others. Getting them to work with partners or in groups was torture for them and for me.

I would not accept their intolerance. I insisted the students team up and respect one another and value their differences. This became my mission for the year. I had the time and situation to work through these skills with them. It was the year of the Olympics in Atlanta so there were teams from many nations all around us preparing for the games. We began to study the different countries that were participating. We talked about the history and values of each culture. We discussed how every person’s role on a team was important. We talked about the respect for each person’s talents as the means for success. We learned how winning was not as important as participating with effort. The feeling was contagious, and soon all the students were caught up in the Olympic fever and in doing their best. Away went the disputes when working together, and away went the name-calling, the racial slurs and the insults over mistakes. Instead, they shared feelings of encouragement for each other.

They were doing so well that other teachers and the parents began to notice. I heard things such as, “I used to see these kids and cringe when they came toward me. Now they are one of my favorite groups.” I also heard, “A year ago I would never have expected Tricia to get a citizenship award.” Parents reported that their children were no longer arguing with siblings or over chores and homework. The rebellious, intolerant attitudes had all but disappeared.

By spring, I felt these students were ready for their final test from me. I had received a small grant from the local community to support my plan. I began a project called Goals and Dreams. The idea was that the class would set a goal, and all the students would participate to make it happen. Having focused so much on sports with the Olympics, the students chose to get involved with a sports activity. Each year the school sponsored a five-kilometer road race to raise money for cancer research. This year my students were going to train for this road race and complete the 3.1-mile course, though none of them had ever run more than a mile and certainly none had ever been in a community road race before.

We began our training program learning about the body and the systems we would need to develop for us to run this race. We studied famous runners from the past and current runners training for the Olympics. We trained each day on the field and charted our endurance, pulse rate, heart rate and speed. Each student chose a running partner so they could encourage each other when one wanted to stop and walk. We kept training logs of activities done at home. We designed team T-shirts to wear on race day and did community service to raise money for the entry fee for the race. We all believed in our goal of participating in and completing the race.

Each day, lessons revolved around our goal, and the students were very excited about working to achieve it— except for one student.

Luke was not excited about running three miles on roads in the local neighborhood. He was not excited about running even one lap around the field. Luke was not a runner. He was the largest boy in the class by at least six inches and thirty pounds. To run for more than two minutes at any speed was a struggle for Luke. Despite this, he never complained and did each of the workouts with the class, always finishing last, always red-faced and gasping as he shuffled to join the class. Luke never seemed upset, and he trudged on like a real trooper each day.

No one in the class said much about Luke’s struggle. It became accepted that Luke would come in last. There was never any pity or insults. It was just the way things were, and it didn’t bother anyone—or so we thought.

The night before the big road race, Luke’s mother called me. Her son was in tears over the idea of coming in last place in the community road race. Luke understood that winning didn’t matter, but coming in last place would be humiliating. Luke’s mom wanted me to be aware of this and know that she would walk the course so that she would come in last place instead of Luke.

The day of the race we excitedly lined up for team pictures and stretched our muscles. Everyone was confident about finishing the course and achieving our goal. Even Luke was a proud member of the team and showed no worry.

The gun went off and hundreds of runners started making their way around the course at different speeds. In front were runners from the community who had been running in races for years. In the crowd behind them were my twenty-six well-trained students and myself, a runner for several years.

After I crossed the finish line, I stood along with many parents to greet each student with a victory hug. One and two at a time they crossed, each bringing us closer to accomplishing our goal. I lost count of the students who had come across the line and started asking those who had finished to be on the lookout for classmates approaching. Gradually, each student crossed the finish line with gritty pride to be part of the success of our class as well as the personal success of finishing a 3.1-mile race. After some time, the finish line area started getting more and more quiet. Still, there was no sign of Luke. I looked around, and no longer saw my students or their parents. I was so disappointed. This was supposed to be a class goal, which meant that everyone had to cross the finish line, and then we would celebrate success.

Maybe this was too much to ask of ten-year-olds. Maybe parents who had hundreds of things to do on a Saturday morning did not understand the importance of having their child stay to cheer on every last classmate. I just knew I would not let Luke down. I would stay at the finish line until he crossed.

My disappointment soon turned to concern. What if Luke physically could not do it? As these thoughts ran through my head, I heard a huge commotion around the final bend before the finish line. A siren let off a screech that pierced my ears and turned my blood cold. Oh no, it must be Luke. Something was wrong with Luke! I started sprinting from the finish line toward the corner.

Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks to see Luke with the entire class gathered around cheering him on with every bit of energy they had left. Together, the group of twenty-six fifth-graders crossed the finish line screaming and celebrating their victory with Luke in the middle as the hero.

Every member of our team received a medal for our victory, and every time I look at mine in its special case, I am reminded of these special students, who learned and lived what it means to be a team, and of Luke, my running hero.

Jodi O’Meara

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