One of my favorite parts of my job is showing my students that I am human who cares about them rather than just being a mean teacher re-directing their behavior and leading a boring classroom. I have a few ways of completing this task. One way is that I allow any students who want to stay after school with me to work on their homework, play on the computers, or just chat with me. Even though these activities force me to spend more time at school, they are among the most enjoyable time of the day for me. A number of my colleagues have given crazy looks for wanting to stay longer than necessary at school, but they have to remember that my family isn’t waiting for me at my condo. My kids are a very large part of my life here, and they are almost family.
The other main way I connect with my students outside the classroom is by attending their extra-curricular activities. I have been to nearly a dozen football and basketball games already, and I know that number will grow. At the games, I am able to connect with families and others in the community along with watching the game. This past Friday evening I stopped at a student’s basketball game that was particularly inspiring to me since I thought it was a good metaphor for my first year as a teacher. Here it goes:
When I arrived at the game, I was alarmed to see “my team” (yes, I am going to use first-person narrative to describe this game) only with 6 players where the other team had 11. It was clear that it was going to be an uphill fight from the start. To start the game in this league, each player on each team gets to shoot a free throw that counts towards the final score. The other team went 11 for 11 at the line where our team only went 3 for 6. Therefore, we were down by 8 before the tip off. As a first-year teacher with students well below the national average, I felt the same way entering the classroom as though I was way behind.
The first quarter went fairly well, but not good enough. Our team had plenty of shots (I don’t have the exact number but we had to outshoot them by a margin of 4 to 1), but most of them were off-target. They weren’t using the backboard to bank in their shots. I did the same thing at first in teaching. I kept trying, but my efforts weren’t aimed in the right places. I didn’t use my support network at school and through TFA enough. As a result, we were losing the game by 5 at the end of the first quarter just like I was still behind at the end of my first academic quarter.
The Second Quarter didn’t provide much news as the margin stayed at 5 points by “half-time”. While I am not at the end of the Second Quarter yet, I feel like I am at “half-time” now as we are half-way to the CRTs (Nevada state tests) in April. It’s a pretty scary feeling being down at the half. Back in the basketball game, the start of the 3rd Quarter didn’t bring much good news either. The back and forth game continued to the point where we were still down by 5 with 3 minutes left in the 4th Quarter. Hopefully, my classroom will see more improvements in my Third and Fourth Quarter where we will have a good chance at “winning” our game by increasing student achievement with more time to spare before the final deadline.
But in basketball, there is always time for the late comeback. In the 3 minutes of the fourth quarter, we went on a 6-0 run to take a one-point lead. Naively, I believed the end of the fourth quarter was the end of the game just like some of my students may see the CRTs as the end of the year, but that’s not the case. In the fifth and final quarter, our team ran away with the game to win by 9 points. The comeback was quite impressive, and it was inspiring to me.
After the game, I asked my student how she was able to lead the comeback (her defense and speed changed the momentum of the game by creating a dozen turnovers). She simply replied, “I’m good like that.” After a quick laugh, I replied by saying that I know you are good like that in the classroom as well (she is a strong student) and that you can help lead a comeback there as well. As my Class President, I hope to equip her with the necessary skills to help us out in leading a real comeback in the classroom. Hopefully, it will start tomorrow (in some ways it has already started), but in any case it’s necessary, because unlike a basketball game, we can’t afford to lose these opportunities for my students. Success is the only option here as my students simply cannot afford failure at any cost. But success here is going to require a team effort, and now I am strengthening my team to ensure that my students, families, fellow staff members, administration, and TFA are all on-board to ensure this comeback. Unlike my student’s basketball team, I have no shortage of team members ready to come off the bench to help lead our team to victory. Now it’s my job to put everything into place to ensure this victory. That’s the real challenge.