Friday, May 27, 2016

What Every Teacher and Coach Must Do...Thank You Coach Kelly

The last day of class is always bittersweet. More sweet than bitter...bitter than sweet (thank you Big Head Todd). On the final day, I try to recall favorite moments from the past year, laughs, great stories, important lessons learned and I extend my gratitude to my students. This year, I discovered an important truth on that final day; a realization brought about from the words of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly. 

In a speech I heard last week, Coach Kelly said "if you had asked me 15 years ago whether or not I like my athletes, I would have told you it doesn't matter. So long as you can run or score for me, I doesn't matter if I like you or not. But knowing what I am missing out on with my own family, I decided I had to like these guys." Upon hearing his remarks, I wondered how he did that. I thought to myself, How does that happen—did he put a fuss-ball table in his office? If I decide to like someone or something, will I? And what does it take to like a group of young people? What tips would he give? 

And then I realized as I prepared my final remarks for my Sports and Spirituality class, a rambunctious group of 20 boys and 5 girls—that I did what he did. I decided to like them. And guess what, it worked.
The Class of 2016, 5th Period
An important ritual on the final day of class is an all class sharing. Each student is asked to share the following:
  1. A favorite story or passage from Scripture that we have studied this year. Why does it stand out for you? Why do you believe this is important? What is the lesson it offers?
  2. Identify concept OR a person that you feel is important and has helped you gain a better understanding of yourself, of the world, of human nature, of your faith, etc. It might be Praydreaming, Theodicy, Compassion or Scripture as Scalpel: To harm or to heal. Maybe it’s Jacob, Jesus, the women at the tomb, etc.NB: There might be some overlap between #1 and #2
  3. Identify one person in this class who has made a contribution with their personal sharing as a partner, as a positive presence, as a group member, overall in the class, etc. Please think creatively and thank them for their contribution.  Bottom line: this class is better because she/he is in it!
It is a wonderful way to conclude the year as I love to learn what stands out as important, what resonated with my kids and more often than not—those students who gave of themselves: to the course and to one another get some recognition. In turn, I summarize much of what they share and then I get to give my thanks. This year, I shared Coach Kelly's story. 

I tell them when I first heard this, "I didn't get it. But as I look around this room, I do." I told them "about a month into this semester, I decided I would like you. I had to if we were going to survive." 

It might seem like a given that a teacher would like their students...and that they should like their students. We do. But we'e also waged war against them and in those times both parties lose. It's no way to be.

As I share my story, I look at the one student who refused to button his collared shirt on a daily basis. Or I look at another who did everything in his power to come and go—in and out of class—as he pleased. I remember how they would clap for each other ad nasuseum: whether it be compelling or completely asinine. So many of these second semester seniors had a full blown case of January! I had been there before, but I hadn't always handled it this way.

I can't remember the exact switch, but one of the days they were more engaged in the curriculum than not...they were feeling generous and maybe I was too. I let my guard down, I genuinely laughed with them, and at them (as they do). Something changed. I liked them not for who I thought they could be, but who they were right now. 
I told my sophomores I should quit now, I'm not sure I'll have a better group than this one...
Every class is different. I taught sophomores for the first time in 12 years. I didn't want anything to do with this course and I almost felt as though I were duped into teaching it. But God's grace was manifested in the group of 28 students. They were fantastic.  I never told them how much I appreciated them until today, the last day of class. I didn't want to jinx it. I told them I committed to liking my seniors...but I never had to do that with them.  I liked them from the start.

St. Paul says that "Love is an act of the will." As a teacher and a coach, our primary duty is to love those entrusted in our care. I think the ability to do that rests in a commitment to do so—again not for who they might be or who we want them to be...but who they actually are. Liking them along the way certainly helps. And what I found is there was a lot to like. There was plenty to not be thrilled about, but their wit, their zany personalities, their prayers, hopes and concerns, their work...that's just the start of it.

Photo Credits
Coach Kelly

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