Sunday, February 3, 2013

In Defense of Teach for America

I think that the public conversation attacking TFA is, in essence, a distraction from the real mission that the organization is pursuing—which is creating an equitable educational playing field for all. It is not an attack on veteran teachers, but the creation of another pipeline of potential teachers into a profession that isn’t uniformly creating opportunity and results for all. This comes with an understanding that when we hire 5 teachers from a pool of 50 applicants, we will create a better team than when we pick the only five who showed up. Or worse yet, when we get only 4, and we have to settle for a rotation of subs for an entire year. Sadly, that is still a reality, even in districts like Denver Public Schools where achievement, enrollment, and graduation rates are rising and teachers are coming in from education programs, TFA, and other alternative routes, like Denver Teacher Residency.

I think the debate has gone askew because effective veteran teachers are running a smoke screen for less effective teachers. As a teacher, I’ve seen colleagues shine, and I’ve seen them fail. Veteran teachers must remember that good teaching and constant improvement IS and SHOULD BE a requirement for continuing as a teacher, and the fact that a colleague has become a friend does not guarantee they are doing what is best for kids. 25-45% of low-income students reaching proficiency are not the signs of success. Neither is the fact that most urban teachers wouldn’t trust their own kids to the schools they teach in.

Not everyone in Teach for America will stay. That is a sad fact. But many of them will, and in Denver, the list of Mile High Teachers, nominated by their schools as outstanding teachers in the district was filled with people I know as great TFA alums who have stayed in the classroom and are making a difference every day. Some will leave after two years, but many of those alums that leave take the fight to other sectors and higher levels of government and business. They bring the focus and the resources that are badly needed back into the profession they left.

Charter middle schools and high schools, as well as public schools in Denver run and staffed by TFA and other non-traditional alums are changing the opportunities available in our city. A KIPP or Denver School of Science and Technology school may not appeal to wealthy white parents already living in a well-staffed, well-resourced school, but it’s a welcome alternative to a school like Montbello High, where principal after principal has left or been fired because graduation rates remain low and violence is high.

If you must hate: hate the teachers who are not carrying their share of the burden, not simply someone carrying a particular label, TFA or otherwise.

This is not a war of between traditional and non-traditional educator preparation programs.

This is a war to replace the complacency and low expectations held for the children of low-income and minority families. We are and should be calling all teachers who will fight and carry the crusade to all corners of this country to replace the broken parts in this system, piece by piece.

Friday, June 4, 2010


I've been lazy. It happens to most runners, but I was hoping to push through it. The end of the school year took its revenge, though, and I lost most of the tough skin I'd earned. I started running mostly in shoes, albeit shoes with little structure that allowed my feet to move freely.

The two main challenges of barefoot running, I've decided, are calf strength and foot skin toughness. In talking with a few friends, I've concluded that the skin toughness is the part that takes longer to develop, and is the easiest to mess up.

With shoes on, I've tried to stick to the basics of barefoot running: land softly, don't land on your heels, and don't stick your leg out too far in front of you. By doing that, I've managed to continue building my calves up, and they're ready for more. I ran the Boulder Bolder 10k ( on Monday, and I kept my form throughout the race. My time was nothing spectacular, but I was running it more for pleasure than speed.

My feet are the part that has suffered from wearing shoes. They felt pretty leathery back at the time of my last post, but I've only really run barefoot a few times since, and they reverted back to baby skin. I ran just a few miles yesterday and have raw feet today. Luckily, I listened to my feet early enough, so I didn't get any blisters or blood.

According to one of the new gurus of barefoot running (Sandler, I think), a person should take it a hundred yards at a time, building up slowly, over months, to be able to run barefoot fully. I think it depends on the person. I increased by a mile at a time when I started, and I did okay, for the most part. Now I'm going to try to run barefoot one day, shoes the next, alternating for awhile and giving my feet a chance to rest.

The feet the last part of the equation, but also the most important if I want to call myself a true barefoot runner.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feeling good, feeling the pain

It's been almost a month now, and I've had some time to experiment. I've tried running with just my Nike Frees, I've run whole runs barefoot, and I've had some half-and-half runs. I have to say that I'm getting used to being barefoot and my feet are rebelling against shoes a bit.

After a month of progress, I started a run yesterday in shoes, and I got blisters in the first two or three miles. To put that in perspective, I haven't had blisters from running since high school. I decided to sack the shoes and go the rest of the way barefoot, even though I was on a sidewalk along a busy road, three miles from home.

It went fine! Most sidewalks are great for barefoot running as long as you pay attention for obstacles (as you should do any time you run). I felt liberated, and had a great run after that.

Unfortunately, I decided to go for it again today, and those little blisters became big blisters. My right foot has at least three good ones on it right now. Who would have thought the first time I'd get blisters from barefoot running would be the result of shoes I'd worn a hundred times?

A couple of other notes from the last month:

I ran off road at Red Rocks State Park. It made me feel like a kid again, and I had a lot of fun, but the rocks on the path took their toll and I had raw feet for a couple of days. I should have a video commentary up soon from that day.

I've mostly been hovering between 2-3 runs a week, with biking and skiing on the weekends.

My feet aren't building up huge callouses like I expected, but they are getting tougher. I'm not sure if it's that I'm not putting in enough miles or if that just isn't going to happen.

I had my longest run of 2010 about a week ago: 9.6 miles. I ran 6 of the miles barefoot without any repercussions.

No ankle, knee, or back problems.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Keeping My Form

I finally ran again yesterday, Sunday, after three days off (Saturday was a ski day). My calves hadn't fully recovered from my Wednesday run, so I decided to try out my Nike Frees again and see if I could keep the form I've been developing on my barefoot runs.

Lo and behold, I could! I was a bit surprised because the other day, when I wore a pair of indoor soccer shoes to run the mile down to my favorite path, I couldn't keep it up at all. The Frees offer a lot more sensitivity to the road and have more side-to-side flexibility than a regular shoe.

The main drawback to wearing the Free is that it has a thick heel cushion. If you don't already know how it should feel to run naturally, it's easy to continue pounding your heels to the ground instead of modifying your form. I think that after running a few times barefoot, I'm more able to fully utilize the potential of the Free.

Lisa ran with me and after running for awhile, switching between wearing shoes and going barefoot, she says that she was able to improve her form even in thick running shoes. The main difference is simply that you land on the outside of your midfoot and roll in to the ball of your foot rather than slamming your heel down. Your feet and calves cushion the shock much better than foam rubber ever will.

I probably should have taken another day off, though. This transition really puts a lot of strain on my calves. After a slow, 52-minute run, my calves were completely burnt out again. Even after an ice bath and a calf rub, I still couldn't walk normally. Today, I was still limping around. I felt less sore, but my muscles were so tight that I could hardly walk up stairs!

I can't wait for another fully barefoot run, but I feel like I should wait even longer to make sure that I'm fully recovered before running again. This is agony! I'm so happy about running, and the weather is perfect, but I'm trapped by a couple of sore muscles.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Still Sore

I haven't run since that great 5.5 miler on Wednesday and my calves are still killing me! Right after the run, I thought it would be the raw soles of my feet slowing me down, but that got better in about a day and a half. I'm still left with calves so sore I can barely walk normally.

Stepping up to such a long distance and picking up the speed at the same time might have been a little too drastic for my muscles to handle right away.

Right now, I'm wondering about how to modify my workout plan to include barefoot running, but make it easier to continue to run at least four times a week. In an earlier post, I mentioned making running sandals called huaraches that just protect the bottoms of your feet from friction and sharp objects. That will be a big improvement, but I'm also wondering if maybe I should do a few days of barefoot and a few days in shoes each week.

Maybe I can keep the barefoot running form while wearing a pair of shoes... It sounds doable, but it's hard without being able to feel the ground and let my feet react naturally. I even have a pair of Nike Free running shoes, but the cushioning is still thick enough to make it hard to have good form.

I'm going to try it out, at least. Hopefully, as my feet get stronger and I build the muscle memory of what good form feels like, I can improve my running form regardless of how I dress my feet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 4: Better Each Time

Today I went for my fourth completely barefoot run. It was great, as usual. I got my first kill, too! As I was getting off my typical running path I passed a shoed runner. I even pulled off to get my shoes from behind a tree and passed him a second time.

I averaged about 9-minute miles this time. I don't know how my time was so slow because it felt great. Maybe it was the stop lights. I also picked up a bike tire at my bike shop that I had to carry home.

Now I'm ready to start working on my times. I'm confident that my feet can handle it, so I'm going to focus on turning this into real training now.

Injury notes:
I had my first "injury." I got a small blister on my left foot at the edge of the ball of my foot. I didn't really feel it until I got home.

My calves are really sore again, but that's just a sign they're getting stronger!

My stomach has felt amazing during these runs. Often, I end up with a bad stomachache after a hard run, but the softer impacts of bare feet mean less impact on joints and on my stomach.

My arches and knees feel like I didn't even run.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Barefoot: The Evidence Continues to Roll In...

As I continue reading Born to Run, I am more and more convinced that barefoot is the only way to run. In the middle part of the book, McDougall really starts laying on the hard data backing up his claims.

Studies around the world, for decades, have shown that the only correlation between shoe quality and injury is that the more expensive your shoes, the more likely you are to suffer an injury. If your shoes are over $95, you're 123% more likely to be injured this year!

After last Sunday's run, I will admit that my feet were a little tender. Not deep pain or soreness, just a little bit raw from the friction. The next day it was no problem, but I haven't had a chance to run again. Hopefully the extra friction will start to build up my feet's natural defenses, but I have yet to find out.

Soon, we may be trying out a running sandal of sorts. We have seen a number of videos on how to make a sandal that basically protects only against friction and spiky things without changing your stride or the feel of running.

More to come...