About Tracie Happel

Ms. Happel has been teaching for 25 years, specializing in special education/deaf and hard of hearing students and students with specific learning disabilities. She has also worked with regular education students at the elementary level. Ms. Happel worked for three years as a governor-appointed education commissioner, bringing the most pressing and recent research in national education to state stakeholders. When not working hard to inspire and educate her students, or collaborate closely with colleagues, Ms. Happel trains for and races in Ironman triathlons. She has two beautiful children who are beginning their lives as young adults in college, and in mission work. Ms. Happel is available for consultation services and presentations on a variety of educational topics. She can be contacted at traciehappel@gmail.com.

“Tracie Happel…YOU! ARE! AN! IRONMAN!” The most chilling words to ever enter my ears back in 2006 at my first Ironman competition. After a grueling 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run in the cold, wind, rain, and a little snow, I became an Ironman triathlete for the first time. Currently, I am training for my fifth to take place later this year in Florida.

But wait. This is an educator page. Why would I be telling you about my athletic feats? Who cares?! Because it’s totally relevant to my tenure as a teacher. Prior to Ironman, I competed in a lot of smaller races around the upper Midwest. It wasn’t long until I found my training philosophy intertwining with my teaching philosophy. It wasn’t long until I heard myself telling my middle schoolers with learning and hearing disabilities, “You can do this. Just five more minutes.” That is what I would tell myself when I was completing sprint sessions on the treadmill at 5:30 a.m. in the middle of winter. Later, I got a poster, which I plastered in the front of my classroom (if there is such a thing) that said, “You won’t know what you can do until you TRY.” I changed it to “TRI” as in “triathlon.” (Us triathletes call the race a “tri.” Get it? The play on words…of course you do, you’re smart.)

It wasn’t long until I found my training philosophy intertwining with my teaching philosophy Click To Tweet

Triathlon training, whether it be for your first tri or your 80th, a sprint (the shortest distance race) or a full Ironman distance race, takes a lot of discipline, focus, compromise, and sacrifice. Do any of those qualities sound familiar to you, teachers? Of course, they do because they are the same qualities we use in our classrooms. Discipline to get up early in the morning, often before the birds, fight the bitter cold or snow of winter, or the raging heat of an early summer morning to swim, bike, or run. The discipline to have yourself  organized you can train in the morning before school, get home, showered, makeup on, dressed, and still 30 minutes early in your classroom. The discipline to manage 30 eight-year-olds as they are out of control from no recess for the third day due to extreme cold. The discipline to endure yet another PD about analyzing assessment data, without running out of the room while screaming and ripping your hair out. The focus to count footfalls on a sprint run to see if you’re faster than the last repeat. The focus to keep teaching while little Bobby is trying to gain attention by pretending to snore during your math lesson. Compromise to find a race during a family vacation. Or to deal with an angry fourth grader who borrowed her favorite pencil to her best friend, who lost it. And the sacrifice to almost care more for your students than your own children because you see the homes from wherie they come, looking to you for love, support, attention, and care. And the sacrifice you give when you eat only organic, non-GMO food to effectively and efficiently feed your body to endure the extremes of training and racing.

To almost care more for your students than your own children because you see the homes from where they come Click To Tweet

Triathlon training, and probably any sport; heck, I’d even venture to say any personal hobby we engage ourselves in, translates well into the classroom. The best part is I get to share my love of my sport with my kiddos. One day I even walked into my second-grade classroom in my wetsuit (or, as I like to call it, my impression of a beached whale!).

I’ve shared my special kind of racing bike with my students, even allowing some of them to sit up on it and lay in the aero bars.

I’ve brought in my tri breakfast for them all to eat during snack time (fruit protein smoothie and a whole grain bagel with butter). They eat it up; they love it. I now have students who are running competitively and on their various school teams. They can mutter under their breath to keep “tri’ing,” “Five more minutes. I can do five…more…minutes…” when they are struggling with writing their story. Or working hard on the math manipulatives. Or when they are scared or nervous or worried about tackling a new skill, they know; They will never what they can do until they TRY.

Do any of you guys participate in a sport? Has it tied back into your love for teaching?


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