Veteran Cobb teacher Bill McAllister has served students at Big Shanty Intermediate School for two decades. He teaches third, fourth, and fifth-grade Advanced Learning and Talent Development. Bill loves teaching. In fact, he has been teaching in the Cobb County School District for 23 years.
Bill also loves running. He usually jogs between 3-15 miles a week. He prefers cross-country style in the woods, but due to quarantine and social-distance restrictions, Bill hasn’t been able to run much on the trails. Instead, he has been running the streets and sidewalks in his neighborhood.
As he was running one day a few weeks ago, Bill began thinking about his students. He hadn’t seen them face-to-face since March 16. He wondered how other teachers were keeping in touch with their classes during social-distancing and digital learning. As he ran and thought about his students, Bill knew what he had to do.
“It became obvious to me,” he said, “that if I jogged to my students’ homes and kept a safe distance in the street, we could see, chat, and connect with each other. This was a good way to connect the two things that bring me the most joy: running and interacting with my students.”
Maintaining a connection with his students is important to him because he sees this as one of the main components of education.
“Teaching is about creating, developing, and maintaining caring and compassionate relationships with students,” he said. “When we have that, our students are willing to do the hard work and rise to difficult learning challenges.”
Bill knows a lot about challenges. In 2016, he had quadruple bypass heart surgery. His doctors told him that if he hadn’t been in such great shape from running, he would have surely died.
“As part of my cardiac rehab,” he said, “it was only natural for me to return to the sport. Only this time instead of living to run, I was now running to live.”
His students are very happy to see him when he comes through their neighborhoods.
“I can really tell that it is having a positive impact on them,” he said. “We get to reconnect and continue to build on the relationships we made this year, and in some cases over the last three years.”
His students have had varied responses to seeing him standing on the street in front of their house.
“Some of them look shocked like they can’t believe what they are seeing,” he said with a smile. “Others are jumping up and down and waving excitedly and calling to me as soon as they see me round the corner.”
The principal at Big Shanty is also a fan of Mr. McAllister.
“I can count on him and go to him for almost anything,” said Principal Kelly Luscre. “These ‘running visits’ are exactly the kind of thing we want our school to be known for, and to have the kids emulate. We are so fortunate to have him on our team and to help spread a little happiness during this difficult time.”
Bill also knows that many of his students depend on the food served at Big Shanty for meals during the school year.
“MUST Ministries has been taking care of our at-risk students over the summer for the last 25 years with their Summer Lunch program,” he said. It’s always been a comfort to know that MUST was there. Knowing this has always brought us peace.”
Bill and his family have been actively involved with MUST’s Summer Lunch Program for some time, and he decided that in addition to visiting his students, he would make a per-mile donation to MUST.
“We connected with them when my daughter was in Girl Scouts years ago,” he said. “It was a no-brainer connection.”
News of the Cobb teacher’s dedicated runs even caught the attention of national news media like FOX News and NPR. Now others around the country know why Cobb is known as the best place to teach, lead, and learn—teachers like Bill McAllister.
Ultimately though, Bill wants the focus to remain on the students, not on him.
“During this time when our schools have been closed,” he said emotionally, “I want to thank all of my Cobb County colleagues who are going above and beyond to reach out and support their students. The kids count on us for emotional support as much as they count on us to deliver curriculum. They’re why we do everything that we do.”
For more information, photos, and Bill’s running schedule, check out his website, JogByHi.