It’s not really a victory in the classroom, but I count it a victory nonetheless.
One of my professional duties is lunch duty, which probably sounds ridiculously boring but which I find to be a very useful time. This is for several reasons: first, it’s non-instructional time, and the amount of actual supervisory work is incredibly low. I also have duty for the first period of lunch (out of two), and this period happens to be almost the exact disjunction of the set of students I currently have in class – that is, I teach 10th-12th graders (well, most of them), and this period covers 7th-9th grades – so I have been able to get acquainted with a number of students who I will (most likely) have in class in the next few years. Consequently, I think I have begun to build positive relationships with many of these students, and I think this will work out in my favor.
But these aren’t even the best things about having lunch duty. My favorite part is, to be blunt, basketball.
The students have roughly 30 minutes to eat, and there are a number of students (particularly boys) who finish in about 15 minutes and then use the rest of the period to do other things, especially basketball and, to a lesser extent, volleyball. They play on one side of the multi-purpose room where we eat lunch, and so it’s easy to supervise.
I’ve always liked basketball – not really professional basketball (college or NBA), but the real thing, live and in person. I used to play basketball quite a bit when I was younger, although I eventually grew less interested in it. (I attribute part of this to my father, who has been an avid basketball player for ages.) So watching the kids play has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my day, at least when the students are cooperating and playing fairly.
As with every other day, the bell rang to signal the end of the lunch period, and the boys playing basketball split into two groups: those who bolted for the door, and those who fought to get one or two more shots before they had to get to class. And as I always do, I go over to get the basketball and shoo the students off to class so I can put the balls away and get to my own lunch.
But something different happened today – when I got the ball, the few students left, all of them freshmen, urged me, “Shoot it, Mr. B!” At first I shrugged it off, and then my eye caught a red ribbon that had fallen on the floor (this week is Red Ribbon Week, and students are wearing red ribbons with a weak adhesive on the back). I asked them whose ribbon it was, and one student says, “If you shoot it, then I’ll pick it up.”
Now a compromise had been issued, and it wasn’t even contingent on my success in the shot. I quickly did a cost-benefit analysis: if I don’t shoot, then I’ve missed an opportunity to meet the students on their terms in a low-risk setting; if I shoot and miss, then we can laugh it off and continue on our day; but if I shoot and make it, then I have the opportunity to really gain the students’ respect.
What did I really have to lose?
So I did the wise thing and took the ball forward a little from where I had been standing to the three-point line, thinking aloud, “Okay, but I haven’t shot a basketball in years, literally.” (That’s actually true.) And I took the shot.
And like the ending of a predictable basketball movie, it was nothing but net.
I still can hardly believe that I made the shot, especially a three-pointer. I fully expected to miss – I had just been hoping that I would at least hit the rim!
The best part, though, was seeing the freshmen boys just erupt when the ball made its swoosh through the net. It was easily one of the best moments I’ve had this year with a group of boys that I’m really starting to like, despite only seeing them for half an hour in a non-instructional setting. Still, I can hope that this one little moment, this one little victory, will put me in a still better place to really engage these students on a personal level when they get to my classroom next year (if all goes as planned).
If only all my days were like this: nothing but net.