Monday, September 3, 2012

Life Lessons from Noisy Students and Outstanding Athletes

Every teacher knows no class is the same.  Coaches will testify to the same truth—no team has the same chemistry, personality, give and take. 
Three years ago I taught Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice to a boisterous group of young men and women who simply put, rocked my world.  This first period class of 30 juniors came into class ready to discuss any and everything, every single day.  They were never quiet and I hated them for it.

I like a fair bit of order and control, respect and discipline.  That school year we had a significant number of tech problems and any lesson plan I had that involved using the Internet failed.  I would stand in frustration at my computer and attempt to fix the problem; I would switch from wireless to the standard network, I restarted my computer, I logged off and back on.  No luck.

Most students sit quietly and wait respectively for the lesson to continue.  Not this class.  I knew I was supposed to love them for their enthusiasm but I was often frustrated with their volume.  I was once informed at a teacher in-service “the one doing the talking is learning.”  I considered this a valuable insight, except when it came to this group of students. They sought any break whatsoever as an opportunity to socialize, laugh, discuss the class material, congratulate their classmates, sing “Happy Birthday!” you name it.  It didn’t matter if it was 8:30 a.m. on Monday or the day after we lost the to our rival in the Bruce Mahoney game, this class was talking.  Tech be damned! 

One day in the most unexpected way, they won me over.  The bell rang indicating that class way over.  The song “These Words” by Natasha Bettingfield came on the school PA and one of my students, Kevin Barker who recognized that he had the God-given talent to make people smile, started to dance.  He busted a move and instantly another 10 kids joined him.  Kevin did what he’s good at…and I smiled. I laughed and I let go.  Their energy and enthusiasm, their noise and their laughter were no longer the enemy.  It was a gift.

I have stayed in touch with a number of these students.  It’s important to recognize that students and athletes stay with you in ways they will never know; many change your life.  I feel so blessed to have stayed in touch with a number of them.

In fact two students from that illustrious group spoke recently in my Sports & Spirituality class about their experience as student athletes at St. Ignatius and now in college.  Rachel Hinds a four-year varsity member of the lacrosse and cross-country team now plays lacrosse at Stanford University.  Her classmate, Johnny Mrlik plays both basketball and baseball at Vassar College.

Rachel addressed how sports teach you about failure.  In life, things will not always go our way.  Learning from failure and even how one will react to it are important life lessons.  She appreciates the way that sports can bring people together, a community of support makes all the difference. 

Johnny added that he misses saying the Prayer of St. Ignatius with his teammates.  He now recognizes prayer was an effective way to center before a game.  Johnny added that you do not get to choose your teammates.  It is always important to learn how to work with people, especially when you have a common goal. 

I said goodbye to Rachel and Johnny and thought, “I am so proud of the people they are becoming.”  I think they are too.  Their promise and potential that was evident in high school is beginning to unfold now in college.  This is not something to take for granted.  Later that same day, I came home to discover that a young man in that very same class, Ben Aguilar has been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and started undergoing chemotherapy this week.   I read an e-mail from our principal that states the following.

This is a very serious form of leukemia and his doctors believe he will need a bone marrow transplant to achieve a full cure.
Unfortunately neither of Ben's sisters are good bone marrow matches so the the Aguilar family is urging everyone they know between the ages of 18-60 to get tested to be a bone marrow donor.  Even if you don't match Ben it could always help someone else out.  It is as simple as logging into and signing up for a test kit.  (I completed the free registration in about 10 minutes.)  You can also put in your zip code and find the nearest bone marrow drive in your area.

Ben is at Kaiser in San Francisco getting his initial treatment and is in good spirits.  If a donor is found he will get the transplant at Stanford in the upcoming months.  The sooner we find a donor the better! 

I can still see Ben in his shirt, tie and SI jacket on game day.  He loves football.  He was tremendously respectful and kind.  He too was a contributor to the volume of that class.  He was more of a listener than a talker, but he very well may have been one of the students dancing in class. He has the promise and potential to stay strong but he needs people to come together, he needs a community of support, he needs our prayers for his health and for a worthy donor.  The words of the Prayer of St. Ignatius have never been more fitting.  Lord, teach me to be generous.

I was struck by the spectrum of life.  In just one day three students from the same class touched my heart.  I hope their experiences at St. Ignatius, in their ethics class and from athletics prepare them for the best of the life and the most challenging.

Please consider our principal, Mr. Patrick Ruff’s request. 

Photo Credits

1 comment:

  1. Really great blog. Thank you for the insights and for the info on Ben. I went on the site to sign up and obtain info on bone marrow donations and I know that Jackson and the other football captains of the 2011 team are rallying together for Ben and his family. Sending love and prayers.