Interview with Mike, Middle School teacher from Gresham

Mike Mann is a teacher in the Gresham-Barlow School District, the district that is helping us pilot our Walk+Bike Jump Start Program! Thanks, Mike, for all your work in making this program a success! -LAF

1. Tell me about how, when, and why you became a bicycle enthusiast.

I can’t remember not liking riding, from the time I was 5. I’ve had moments, though, where the world of cycling got a little wider for me: The first time I rode to the top of Larch Mountain, alone in jeans on a beater 10-speed, and I enjoyed doing it; Riding from my job as a cook at Old Faithful to the town of West Yellowstone because I wanted a piece of pie; When I started to commute by bike from SE Portland to Gresham was a big deal, and has been my daily routine for years now, helping me mentally prepare to spend the day with adolescents, and helping me decompress at the end of each day; Racing cyclocross has been a blast, and opened up a whole new world of bike fun as well.

2. How do you think biking fits in with middle school health and P.E. classes?

I think it could be a huge part of middle school health – physical personal health, as well as the health of our communities. Here in Gresham it’s hard to fight the car-culture mentality – it’s ingrained in the staff as well as the school families – but we’re making inroads and hope to continue to build on the beachhead we’ve established with the Wheelz Bike Club and the Jump Start grant. Our new Health teacher is eager to get kids on bikes as soon as possible, and we’re exploring the idea of rolling local field trips as well!

3. What is your favorite memory on your bike?

That’s a hard one – there are so many. I love long rides in beautiful places. Riding with good companions, whether it’s the Oregon Randonneurs on a beautiful spring 300K out to Cape Lookout, or my friends in Team Cyclisme as we roll fast out Skyline on the “Rocky Rabbit” loop. I love doing the Ronde Portlandia each year – but “enjoyable” is not a word many use to describe that ride! My best recent memory was my first overnight trip in the summer of 2011. I rode alone on my 86 Nishiki, lightly loaded, out the Banks-Vernonia trail to the coast. I camped the first night at Fort Stevens, and the second at Cape Lookout, then headed home by way of the Little Nestucca and back to Hillsboro for a Max ride back to town. 300 miles in 3 days – I was beat but it was great fun.

4. How do you envision using the Jump Start bikes with your students?

Jump Start will be a great confidence booster for these kids. Mark Adamski was just telling me he ran into one of our Wheelz kids from a couple years ago at the Krugers cyclocross race this weekend – he was racing in his first-ever event. You just never know how cycling will take root in a kid’s life. I do know it makes kids happy to just ride – to be able to confidently pedal farther than they have ever travelled under their own power before. You can see a kind of light come on for those kids when they realize the control they suddenly have and the possibilities that begin to open up for them.

5. Tell me how, when, and why you became a teacher.

My route to teaching was very circuitous. I was not one of those people who dreamed – or even seriously thought – about becoming a teacher. It probably began when I finished my first year of college as an Electronics Engineering major with a 1.7 GPA. I realized if I was going to continue, I needed to shift my focus away from where I thought the money was and towards where my natural aptitudes were. So I became an English major with no aspirations except reading and writing and hoping I could find a “real” job outside the restaurant business. I actually dropped out of the teacher education program when I realized I was going to have to stand before real students (duh). The thought petrified me. Then I was in a serious car accident and in intensive care I received fantastic, literally life-saving care from the nurses. I decided that, fear or no fear, I needed to do something like that. So I jumped back in, and eventually got hired to teach middle school after looking for a high school job and subbing for two years. Twenty-three years later I’m stil at it and probably more excited by the job than ever. As long as bikes and enthusiastic kids are involved, I’ll keep at it.

6. What is a favorite memory from your teaching career?

Adolescents keep me on my toes and keep me young. I think a lot of the public is afraid of kids this age because they’re just so high energy – it’s like they’re constantly throwing off sparks and you want to keep a safe distance in case something explodes. But they make me laugh all the time, and are full of surprises. A couple weeks ago I was experimenting in class with the new iPad lab and showing the students a new app we’d be using. I was stuck trying to figure out how to do something with a file that needed to be uploaded, and one of my students said, “Here, let me see if I can figure it out.” Five minutes later, he was teaching the rest of us how to do it. That’s what school should always be like – providing resources and structure for students so they can create their own learning and then turn it loose on the world.

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