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Don’t teachers atrophy, too?

3 min read


On the treadmill the other day reading “Born to Run,” a New York Times best-seller about an underground ultra-marathon that took place in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, I came across a truth that few weekend warriors probably realize: Running shoes are actually horrible for you.

“Putting your feet in shoes is similar to putting them in a plaster cast,” explains Gerard Hartmann, a noted physical therapist cited time and again in “Born to Run.” “If I put your leg in plaster, we’ll find forty to sixty percent atrophy of the musculature within six weeks. Something similar happens to your feet when they are encased in shoes.”

That’s interesting stuff, isn’t it?

Here we are thinking that we’re helping every time we roll out to the Nike store to drop a few bills on the latest and greatest gadgets to keep our creaky feet happy while we’re hobbling through our workouts, when we’re really making matters worse by weakening the very muscles that man has relied on for millions of years.

Sit back and let that stew for a minute, though, and it makes perfect sense. Our barefoot predecessors literally relied on their feet for survival. They ran from threats. They ran for food. They ran more miles in a month than most of us will run in a lifetime — and they did it without any help from Dr. Scholl’s or other foot-care specialists.

Compare that with our new and improved world, where arch support and custom orthotics are slid inside every shoe, and there should be no surprise that our feet have grown lazy. They don’t have to work hard anymore because we are convinced that we can engineer our way out of any physical challenge.

Long story short: We’ve gone soft, y’all.

I wonder whether the same atrophy happens to teachers when we force them to follow the scripted curricula that have become so common in today’s results-driven schools.

Seen initially as crucial supports designed to structure the work of struggling teachers, day-by-day pacing guides — like running shoes — have become the norm rather than the exception in education. As a result, we’ve become an “injury-prone” profession because we’ve forgotten to rely on our greatest strength: The minds of our classroom teachers.

Think about it: There’s no need to flex your intellectual muscles when you’re being held accountable only for delivering predetermined lessons on predetermined days. Just like natural movements are impossible for feet strapped inside plaster casts, innovation is impossible for practitioners bound by rigid guidelines. As a result, skills that we once took for granted waste away and are forgotten.

Frightening analogy, isn’t it?

Like many accomplished educators, Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) wears a ton of professional hats. He’s a Solution Tree author and presenter, an accomplished blogger and a senior fellow in the Teacher Leaders Network. He checks all of those titles at the door each morning, though, when he walks into his classroom.