What I’m Up To

Day’s Verse:
Give yourselves to disciplined instruction;
open your ears to tested knowledge.

Proverbs 23:12

I feel that my recent work with the Bicycle Alliance needs a little bit of explaining. It’s not the kind of work I can summarize quickly in a word or phrase. Ian can say, “I’m a software engineer,” or “I’m a programmer,” and people have some idea of what he spends his days doing. My current employment situation isn’t so easy to succinctly describe. So here goes.

Before my AmeriCorps internship ended, the Bicycle Alliance started applying for grants to teach bike classes. Not just to anybody, though. With these grants, they teach bike classes based on Traffic Skills 101 to PE teachers — either elementary or middle school — as part of the Safe Routes to School program. The PE teachers would then take their new knowledge about bicycling and use it to teach a bike unit in their PE classes. This isn’t a new idea; the Bicycle Alliance did a pilot program along these lines with just a few school districts, and these grants really build on that experience.

The Bicycle Alliance received three grants along those lines, with some variations (one is for college-level instructors). After my internship ended, the Bicycle Alliance hired me and another LCI — Eileen Hyatt, the gal who originally did the pilot program — as contractors. We’ve spent from January to now working with Feet First, a pedestrian advocacy organization, to:

  • Figure out exactly what we’re going to do in this 2-day seminar — essentially create an agenda based loosely on Traffic Skills 101 that also serves as our curriculum. It’s much bigger than TS101, though; it’s TS101 plus pedestrian information plus training on how to teach the kids’ curriculum. We have 15 hours total to teach this huge volume of information to PE teachers.
  • Modify the kids’ PE curriculum to include pedestrian lessons.
  • Work with the Bicycle Alliance’s coordinators (they have 2 staff people coordinating the details of 2 of the grants. One we call the OSPI grant, the other the CPPW grant) to get details for the classes in place.

That’s what I’ve been doing so far. Now we move into the next phase, which is actually teaching the classes. This involves driving to remote areas — Lynden and Sedro-Wooley are my first two — and:

  • Scouting out around the area to find a road ride route that meets the Traffic Skills 101 requirements.
  • Marking (with paint, chalk, sponges, or 1/2 tennis balls) a bike handling skills course on the ground in the parking lot provided to us.
  • Teaching the class: 8 am to 4 pm two days in a row; Feet First is there on the first day, and then I’m on my own the second day.
  • Doing a bunch of paperwork after the class.

Since Lynden is our first-ever class, we’re going to have an abundance of teachers: Two people from Feet First, me, Eileen, and an LCI from near Lynden who we’re hoping to bring in to help teach these classes. Eileen drove all the way from Spokane for this. She’s staying with us two nights on either end of the class, and we’re staying with the LCI in Lynden tonight and tomorrow night. I think we’re all somewhat nervous; I know I am.

I have to try to learn all the stuff that relates to classroom management of elementary/middle school kids with bikes and all those detail things about actually running the class. Eileen, who was a teacher before she “retired,” has that stuff down cold. She’s been working on this program for 20 years. I, on the other hand, just came into this in September and I’ve never laid out the kids’ course, managed a class of 30 squirrely 6th graders, or tried to wrangle parent volunteers. I have a lot to learn before I can confidently go teach teachers how to do some of these things. And I have to learn it fast, because next Tuesday and Wednesday I’m teaching this same class in Sedro-Wooley, except by myself.

Between now and mid-April, I teach one class per week — each one takes 3 or 4 days, depending on the location — with one week off. For the OSPI grant alone, which runs through 2012 (assuming the world doesn’t end), the Bicycle Alliance is teaching 29 school districts throughout Washington State. We’re going to be very busy.

In addition to the LCI teaching work, the Bicycle Alliance also hired me to help co-manage the OSPI grant. That’s a fairly new addition to my plate, and I’m not 100% sure what that will pan out to look like.

So that’s what I’ve been doing and what I will be doing for the next year or so. Now I have to finish getting my supplies together for the trip to Lynden. I won’t have access to a computer between today and Thursday night (gasp!) so if you need me, please call or text my cell phone. I’ll be available evenings. Wish me luck — I sure hope it goes well!

Teaching Anxiety

Day’s Verse:
This third I will put into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’

Zechariah 13:9

Things are getting busy around here. My days of quiet down time are rapidly coming to a close as the Bicycle Alliance’s teaching grants really get underway. It’s looking like I’ll spend March through May intensively teaching bike classes to PE teachers — probably one class a week, which is a lot. Each class is 15 hours, and most of them will be in remote school districts way out in eastern Washington. I’ll be spending a fair amount of time on “business trips” for the Bike Alliance, spending a couple nights in places like Okanogan as I teach the two-day class. I’m not wild about this, but it’s only for a couple months. Most of all I’m actually nervous about teaching the classes. I’ve taught Traffic Skills 101 before, and feel moderately comfortable about that. But this class adds a whole different dynamic: The kids’ bike skills curriculum. We’re training PE teachers to teach a bike unit in their classes, and that bike unit is something I’ve never actually implemented myself. Back in September I spent a week in Spokane observing and assisting a PE teacher as she did the unit. But that’s very different from having done it myself. I’m no PE teacher, and I’m concerned that my being a bike person and not a PE teacher will undermine my credibility among my PE teacher students.

Well. Time will tell. Now I go get my hair cut (oh boy!), then spend the rest of the day in a whirlwind of Bike Alliance meetings, and end with hosting a book group at our house this evening. Gotta run!

Teaching a Bike Class

Day’s Verse:
Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.
2 Cor. 13:7

My entire week — and a good portion of earlier weeks — has been consumed with organizing the Bicycle Alliance’s first Traffic Skills 101 class. Originally I conceived it as a way to say thank you to volunteers — essentially another incentive for volunteering. We can say “Another advantage of volunteering for the Bike Alliance is that we offer Traffic Skills 101 exclusively to volunteers for only $20 (to cover the cost of materials). If you took this class elsewhere in the Puget Sound area, you’d pay $60 to $85.”

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way. We invited some specific people, mostly volunteers, and filled the class — that’s 9 or 10 students with two LCIs. But then students started dropping the class. Things came up. They hadn’t paid anything, so they didn’t lose anything by backing out. This happened to me in April with the Salute to Volunteers Night at the Mariners, too. People RSVP’d; we bought tickets; and then they didn’t show. Anyway, some other people got invited to the class who haven’t volunteered. Eventually we got down to 5 students, and I was willing to take almost anybody — but that was yesterday afternoon, and the class starts at 4:00 today (Friday the 13th, as many people have pointed out). It was too late of notice.

Every and I have decided to cancel the class if we only get 3 students. But I’m still feeling discouraged and disappointed by the bad turnout: I’ve put in tons of work finding a venue, planning the curriculum, organizing food and miscellaneous details, planning a route, ordering materials from the League of American Bicyclists, …well, the list goes on. On top of which, Every and I will both be working Friday evening and Saturday, with no particular recompense. I’ve worked more weekends and evenings than I want, with no surcease in sight.

So I’m feeling discouraged. But I’ve also learned something:

  • People don’t value what they don’t pay for. Offering something free or very cheap — like a baseball game or a bike class — seems to make it less meaningful, less of a commitment.
  • Commitments don’t mean as much as they used to. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, “back in the day, giving your word meant something.” If you said you were going to an event, whether free or not, you went, even if something better came up. Now, though, people seem to always be on the lookout for what’s most beneficial for them. Saying you’ll go to one event doesn’t mean you’ll go, per se; it more means you’ll go if something better doesn’t come up.

This is really frustrating, but I’m learning tricks to deal with it.

  1. Make people pay up front.
  2. Ask for a refundable charge. Require people to write you a $50 check to register and give the check back when the student finishes the class.
  3. Take the student’s firstborn child hostage. Return the child when the student finishes the class.

In any case, I’m teaching a bike class this weekend. It’ll go from Friday at 4:00 pm through Saturday at 2:30 pm (with a break for sleeping and such, of course). I’m really looking forward to Saturday afternoon.