Let me take you back many years ago. I had just started my life as a supply teacher. One of my first schools was extremely small, maybe 50 total students. I went in for a two day job to teach all the grade 5’s and 6’s, which was maybe 15 kids. They were a nice, innocent group of farming kids. At the end of the day they had gym, but this school had was so small they didn’t actually have a gym, so they had to go outside. After they had played a few games of capture the flag, I noticed something interesting. Whatever team this one boy was on, won. Over and over again. Let’s call that boy Justin. I mentioned this to the class and they were all fine with it. They said that’s what always happened. What the heck? They’ve been playing this game for years now, completely fine with the fact that whoever had Justin would win?
“Well Mr. M, he’s the fastest kid in the entire school so it makes sense”. Okay, it’s true that he was the fastest, but he was actually just better with the strategy of the game. By that I mean, he had a strategy when no one else did. He’d always tell his team to spread out, kept a few people back to guard his flag, sent runners in different directions, etc. He just knew how to play the game.
Eventually, I stacked the teams so heavily against him, trying to see if I could hand this kid his first loss. Couldn’t do it. Finally I told the kids that it’s because he’s playing with a strategy that allows him to always win. “No Mr. M, he’s super fast, fastest in the whole school.” At this point I must’ve looked unimpressed because another kid asked me if I thought I was faster than him. “Yeah, probably.” I mean come on, I was in my early twenties. Sure, I’m not some stud athlete, but we’re talking about an 11 year old who’s the fastest in a school of 50 kids.
“You should race him then!” “Yeah! Race him!” So I did what I had to do. I agreed to race an 11 year old to show these kids that he’s not the Usain Bolt they make him out to be. Now since this was a two day supply job, I told this kids we would race the next day during gym, so long as they behaved all day. This turned out to be genius; that next day the kids were just about the best behaved class I ever taught. Kids love being rewarded. I used to always tell classes that their teacher asked me to keep track of the three best kids and they would get a reward the next day. Poor kids, tried to behave all day only to have their real teacher tell them it was a fakeout by a mean supply teacher.
Anyway, the kid I was racing was actually the nicest, most humble kid ever. It was the rest of the class that set it up. He reluctantly agreed, but no trash was talked; he was a true professional about the whole ordeal.
The next day arrived, and that’s when things got interesting. The first student I walked passed that day was a younger kid who asked if I was the one racing Justin. I found it a little strange that he had heard about it. I quickly came to realize that the whole school was buzzing about the big race. Not just the kids, either. In the staff room, the teachers started to ask me all about it. This is when my nerves kicked in. “The thing about this race is, in order for you to win, you have to set the right distance. Justin is the fastest kid in the whole school you know. If you make it short, he’s incredibly speedy, and if it’s long, he has amazing endurance.”
What in the world? Did these teachers actually think I was going to lose? How fast was this kid? My mind started racing, thinking back to capture the flag the day before. Is it possible that I underestimated him? Maybe he was the next big thing in the world of speed. Crap. Am I about to lose to an 11 year old?
The 2nd half of my day was spent with a nervous pit in my stomach about the big race. I need these kids to misbehave so I can call this off. Damnit, they’re angels! Quietly finishing all their work, asking to use the bathroom as politely as possible, raising their hand for every question they have. With their free time, they were preparing signs for the big race. My prevailing hope came from the fact that Justin was nervous, too. He had brought a specific lunch for the day to make sure he could be at his fastest. He also brought his best shoes. Oh crap, I had my fancy work shoes on and my teacher pants. Why did I not prepare for what was turning out to be the biggest event in this school’s history?
Last block. Race time. As the teacher, I had two advantages. One, I set the distance. I made it across the school yard, maybe 100 metres. Next, I was the one who called the start. Some girl said she could start us but I couldn’t allow that, this race was too big to let Sally hold off on saying go, trying to be funny, causing me to false start.
At this point, the younger grades decided to skip math to come watch. A full crowd of 50 was cheering us on now. Pretty well everyone was against me; this was a true road game. I knew I had two options that I mulled over as I tied my shoes tighter. One, I could let the kid win. I’d make sure that at least the teachers and smarter kids knew I was going easy. You know, come out of the gates slow, smiling the whole way, big congratulations as I greet him at the finish line. The downside to this was that the hype for this race had brought out my competitive side. I despise losing so a loss here, even on purpose, wouldn’t bring me much joy, even if it did make Justin’s day/year/life. The other option was to go all out. Make sure these kids knew who was the fastest in town. Yeah, that’s right, your precious Justin isn’t so hot after all, is he? I’m the big man now! The downside here, of course, was that if Justin was actually the fastest 11 year old in the history of mankind and he beats me, I end up looking like a complete bum. That’s the type of loss that sticks with you for the rest of your life. You could develop alzheimer’s and still remember the day an 11 year old kicked your ass.
The time had come. Here. We. Go. I went down in a runner’s stance. I had made my choice- I was going to give my best effort. I lifted my head and started the countdown to the biggest moment of my life. “3…2…1…GO!” I took off like a rocket! In that moment, I truly felt I could beat Usain Bolt in his prime. Fancy shoes and teacher pants were not going to hold me back. After about 20 metres, I could not hear Justin’s steps whatsoever. As it turns out, my initial instincts were correct. He was perhaps a slightly faster than average 11 year old, who happened to be the fastest kid in a school of 50. I absolutely demolished him. What a beatdown. As I crossed the finish line, the kids surrounded me with high fives and chants of “Mr. M! Mr. M!” could be heard far and wide. Justin crossed the finish line looking completely dejected. “Good try buddy, I’m sure you’ll be close to my speed one day.” Wow, what a gracious winner I was, lifting this kid’s spirits after I had completely humiliated him in front of all his peers who had put him on a pedestal.
Needless to say, that was my last time being asked to supply there.