Souplesse: How a Bike Racer’s Secret Can Help You Become a Better Teacher

If you teach long enough, other parts of your life will start to inform your work in the classroom. Being a passionate, dedicated and well-remembered teacher requires more than understanding your subject area, mastering sets of classroom activities or even teaching for many years. It requires you to develop souplesse.

Melding form and performance

Never heard of souplesse, you say?

OK, let me explain. I’m an avid amateur bicycle racer who competes in and around New York City. Bicycle racing has an interesting subculture because even average racers need hours of training to merely hang with the pack during a race. Racing requires average people climb onto bicycles, very often at sunrise, and race shoulder-to-shoulder in packs, a peleton if you will, at high speed for hours on end. The risk of significant injury is pretty much constant (ask my surgically repaired collarbone), yet there are hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women who race and train all year in the New York metro area. Now, what does this have to do with being a teacher?

It’s all about the French word souplesse. From Velominati.com, a website for bike racers:

Souplesse is the perfect storm of Looking Pro; harmony between grace and power, casual and deliberate. It speaks of the entire organism, the perfectly manicured machine together with the perfectly refined position and technique of its rider. It is the combination of Magnificent Stroke, gentle sway of the shoulders and head, the rhythmic breath, and of knees, elbows, and chest converging on the V-Locus.

Working to become a master

The point is, the perfect racer works in harmony with body and bike to create perfect form. And this applies how to teaching? Well, have you spent hours perfecting your craft? Have you mastered the classroom moves required to respond to the multitude of questions that come your way? Do you make it look effortless?

That’s how souplesse transfers from the race course to the classroom. And here’s the more important lesson: There are no natural masters of bicycle racing. It’s a true sport in the sense that it is a meritocracy. Anyone willing to train long and hard enough can race at the higher amateur levels. No one becomes fluid, graceful and centered immediately. That comes only after dedication, time and effort.

So now that you know what souplesse is, can you apply it to your work at honing your teaching skills? Have you poured yourself into your subject area and dedicated your personal time to mastering the innate essence of your subject? How about child development? Do you work hard to understand the developmental ages of your students, or do you get caught up in the misguided idea that experience is solely enough? Absorb your calling deeply. Spend great amounts of time learning to understand what you have chosen to do with your life.

I’ve seen souplesse in action and I’ve tasted it a bit on the bike and in the classroom, so I can assure you that what it represents — striving for ideal form and top performance — is more than worthwhile for the deep sense of satisfaction and joy that it brings.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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