First of all, thanks to all who wrote such kind words on my last post–I am continuously blown away that people who aren’t my parents read what I write, and especially when people like Gary Rubinstein and mathinaz (two people whose blogs I read on a regular basis) appreciate my musings…pretty heady stuff.
Anyway, I wanted to tell you about basketball. I am coaching basketball as the assistant to my fellow fourth grade teacher, mentor, and all-around awesome person who is honestly the biggest reason I’m not falling flat on my face right about now, classroom-wise. And although many learned and wise people have strongly advised me against doing anything extracurricular (like my afterschool tutoring, or my masters classes, or basketball…oops), in this case (OK, in all those cases), I’m booting their advice right out the window.
I love basketball. I love to play, and used to be a 3-teams-a-season kind of kid back in the day. But more than that, I love getting to hang out with the kids in a way that is NOT academic. There’s this incredible urgency associated with all my academic time with them. If we aren’t actively learning, I’ve been TFA-conditioned to get this awful feeling like this is time we can’t afford to waste. It’s good because we get more out of our time, and we create extra time in lunch lines, at recess, and afterschool to get that stuff done. But sometimes you just need to shoot some hoops.
Basketball is a break for the kids and for me (though not for my voice, which for the second time this year is completely gone). It’s a time when a kid with zero academic confidence, who asks why we bother giving him tests since he knows he can’t read, gets to be a superstar. A kid who, at 13, doesn’t know his letters, barely talks, and hardly understands the words that are spoken to him, gets to bounce down the court with a beatific smile on his face, thrilled to be doing something he finally understands. A girl who has serious learning disabilities, and such bullying and behavior problems that she is maybe two incidents from a district behavior hearing, gets to be part of a team, and gets to hear praise from adults for her actions.
As for me, I get to be the one building them up and telling them what a great job they’re doing. Sure, we do that as much as we can in school, but for some kids their academic confidence is so shattered that they don’t really believe you when you’re telling them they’re doing well (which is heartbreaking, but not uncommon). But in sports, they get to be great. They get to be Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James all rolled into one. I get to know kids who aren’t my students, and then all day long in the hallways hear “Ms. EMinNM, we’ve got practice today, right? Think we’re gonna win next week?” And those 5th graders, not my students, have become just as much my kids as the ones I spend all day with. They worm their way into your heart, the little monsters.
The real thing about basketball for our kids is this: sports is a place where they haven’t lost their dreams yet. In academics, so many have lost the luxury of sky’s-the-limit dreams, crushed under failing grades and language difficulties. But nobody’s told them they can’t be fantastic ball players in the NBA. And I’m not about to start.