Friday, January 27, 2006


ca-thar-sis n. A release of emotional tension, as after an overwhelming experience, that restores or refreshes the spirit.
I enjoyed one of these myself today. After a somewhat tumultuous week of elementary education, students were dismissed early - as some kind of recognition of the end of the semester. This was a little odd, since all the elementary schools in Oakland are on the trimester grading schedule, but a minimum day is a minimum day.
We have a sports program at our school that gets kids out to help supervise and organize games on the playground at recess. These Junior Coaches issued a challenge to the teachers for a friendly game of kickball. At two o'clock, that's what I headed out to do.
A number of the kids at my school have never seen me wear anything but my "teacher shoes," so they were a little aghast to see me in running shoes. There was a healthy cross-section of grade levels represented on the teachers' team, from Kindergarten to Fifth Grade. Seven of us sized up the ten Fourth and Fifth graders and their coach. We started in the field, and there was a little concern as the kids jumped out to a three run early lead.
As it turns out, we needn't have been quite so distressed. The coach had told us old folks not to go easy on the kids, as she was interested in promoting teamwork among her crew, and allowing them to deal with some adversity. We gave them plenty of adversity. Along with the rest of the teachers, I used this opportunity to work out the petty frustrations of the day on that red rubber ball. We put up a dozen runs before they got us out the first time.
I had a brush with guilt, feeling that with ten and eleven year old self-esteem at stake, maybe we should ease up a bit. I tried kicking with my left foot. I popped up, and one of the girls caught it. The teachers were still ahead by thirteen runs, but I could feel the jeers loosening up in the outfield.
Here's the deal: As a kid, I was the short round one with glasses out in right field, praying that the ball wouldn't come near me. When bigger, faster, more athletic kids pushed in front of me to kick when it was my turn, I didn't argue. I knew my place. Now I was forty-three, with plenty of coordination and stamina, and a team full of enthusiastic adults who had the same essential goal in mind. We were going to win the game to have something real to end our week. So often in teaching we have to settle for moral victories, or be satisfied with what might have been. Here was a chance to take an active role in the outcome of the day.
When it was over, we did not gloat. We gave high fives and compliments to all the kids who were brave enough to come out and give their best. Maybe next time we'll mix up the teams, or add some kind of handicap to the old folks. Next time. Today was ours. Yes, it was a group of prepubescents we beat, but we beat them - and we did it as a team.


Anonymous said...

...then all the teachers sat in the middle of a room and the students threw paper at them...

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's nice that the kids WANT to do what they did. That shows that at some level, they may not think they can win, but they want to play the game. And the game will be played for its own sake and not for a scholarship, a roster position, a contract, or some other bling. And the comment I just sent, about the paper, it was meant to be funny. You know, wry wit. I'm trying to be a common tater with some conscience.

You are kept alive to serve this ship. Teach well, and live!