Thursday, February 28, 2008

More kids are ruined at the dinner table

I am a former collegiate athlete and I can vividly remember working my butt-off to have the chance to play volleyball for a Big Ten school. I remember my father pushing me to be the best that I could, but he did it in a way that never made me resent him. I loved volleyball and I loved the fact that my dad did too. He never talked much about me and my mistakes on the court while at the dinner table or on the way home from a match. I consider myself lucky, considering he was the varsity girls coach anyways. He always said that “more kids are ruined at the dinner table than out on the court.” I didn’t really get what he meant until this year.

After I had retired from the 5 hr practices, the long weekend away matches and the persistent excruciating pain in my left knee, I decided to give coaching a try. Believe me, coaching is not as easy as it looks. Just because you are a great player, trust me, that doesn’t always equate to being a great coach.

I started out coaching freshman volleyball and then middle school track. I absolutely loved it. It allowed me to still be involved with sports that I love, but I didn’t get as sore as I used to. I would still practice with my kids and demonstrate stuff, but it just isn’t the same as being out there for games, you know? Anyways, this year marked my 10th year coaching girls volleyball. And you want to know what? I finally feel like I knew what I was doing. Not bad, I suppose. It only took me 10 years to get here!

No matter the amount of experience you have accumulated or the number of victories or the number of tournament trophies, you will always have to face at least one parent every now and then who feels like their kid just isn’t being given a fair chance. Honestly, I rarely experienced this whole parental –confrontation thing until I was here in Sarasota. I am NOT saying parents are worse here than they are in Westerville, because my dad has some real hum-dinger stories about crazy parents from up there too. The most recent incident remains fresh in my mind because I interact with the parent just about once a day while I am at work.

I hate keeping more than 12 kids on the volleyball team because I just feel like if the kids are there everyday practicing, then I need to reward them with playing time. If I keep more than 12 players on the team, then those extra kids are competing with each for that slice of valuable playing time, which equates to everyone getting to play less. But on the other hand, I absolutely hate cutting kids from the team. It breaks my heart every single time. I tell myself not to keep more than 12 because it only brings problems. I give the girls the whole “Michael Jordan was cut from his freshman basketball team” speech and how if I could keep all of them on the team, I would. And I mean it. I wish I could. It’s such a Catch 22. When I hold the parents meeting, I tell parents that I do not promise equal playing time because playing time needs to be earned. I also created a list of ways that parents could become their child’s cheerleader, and not the overbearing, nagging and confidence-crushing parental type.

So the most recent episode was in between matches. Two parents came charging out of the stands to have it out with me. I didn’t even see them coming until they were on the court, jaws clenched and heads shaking back and forth. Their child hadn’t played yet that day and I was honestly going to play her in the next game. But how could the parents know that? All they saw was their little girl looking depressed and defeated while on the bench. I am not a parent yet, so I can only imagine what it is like for them. I also have rarely sat the bench as an athlete, so I can only imagine that too.

Regardless, the parents accused me of playing girls with half of their daughter’s talent and this and that… And I let them speak, nodding my head, saying “I understand, but I will not discuss other players on this team with you. I will only talk to you about your daughter.” As she continued on, I reiterate my original statement and I told her that I heard her. She then says, “If you weren’t going to play her much, then maybe you shouldn’t have kept her on the team!” And I responded, “You’re probably right.”

The truth is, this little girl was a last minute add on. I had originally cut her from the team, but on the last day of tryouts, I saw some real potential. So I decided to take a chance. Unfortunately, she didn’t improve and instead, her dedication, her enthusiasm and her effort just went downhill. The asst coach and I tried to work out why, but we just couldn’t help her. She would come to practice late because she would be socializing with her friends after school instead of changing in the locker room – which I never told her parents because I was truthfully afraid they were pushing her too hard in this sport anyways. I also absolutely refuse to put an athlete into an unsuccessful situation - how is THAT going to help her self esteem when she commits social suicide on the court with her team mates shaking their heads and questioning why she is even there in the first place? The last thing I wanted to do to was to make this young athlete hate volleyball even more. So I tried to protect her.

After the parents stormed off, I stood there with the asst coach, digesting what had just happened. I thought about sending the child home with her disgruntled parents. I thought about not playing her at all. But then, who was I really “punishing”? The young female athlete or the parents? But what if the parents thought what they said to me actually made me play her in the next game?

At that point, I didn’t really care what they thought. They had never played volleyball before and why should I be concerned what they thought of me? Just because the parents were acting like butt-heads didn’t mean I needed to treat their daughter like one.

After we won the next game, the father tried to apologize. He hugged me and said, "No hard feelings, right?" I smiled and pulled away from him and responded, “Regardless of how I feel about you and your wife, that doesn’t affect how I feel about your daughter.”

Boo yah.

I have to admit, I felt a little proud of myself for being much like my father. He was always good at those kind of things. One-liners, calming parents down, 400+ victories… you know, the usual. I am just glad I acted more like my dad in that situation than my mom.

Lord only knows what my mother would have said. My kids would have been taught a bunch of new cuss words, that’s for darn sure.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kids never cease to amaze me…

Alright, so I am going to be the first to admit that I am not very knowledgeable on the topic of physics. Granted, my undergraduate degree is practically in Biology and I have difficulty with math, so I am probably not the best candidate to be educating the youth of Sarasota on Newton’s laws, force and acceleration. I am actually probably doing them a disservice by even attempting to tackle word problems to produce some random number with the unit of joules attached. (Or Newtons or m/s2 for that matter.)

So I decided to try something new. I decided to jigsaw the physics portion of the curriculum by dividing it up into 6 topics – magnetism, kinetic & potential energy, Newton’s laws, simple & compound machines, force & acceleration and work & power. Ok, so the concept of jig sawing is not a new technique but I have truly been apprehensive in the past because of class dynamics, constructing set guidelines or expectations and, for lack of better terms, lack of teaching experience. I just didn’t feel like I had enough know-how to implement a jigsaw activity AND have it be an effective learning experience for my students.

I really wasn’t able to put it all together until Monday. I had my assessment in mind (the kids were going to create 2 low, 2 medium and 2 high level questions) so I knew what I wanted them to cover. I then made a rubric, a self evaluation form, a peer evaluation form, a student checklist and the project description sheet. The students had a set of guidelines they needed to follow in order to earn full credit. They had to present a 40 min lesson to their peers and had to include the following: essential vocabulary, equations, practice problems, visual aides, a demo, a hands-on activity, use of technology and an in-class assessment. I was trying to get my students to hit as many of the learning modalities as possible, as well as getting them to work effectively together within a group.

So on Tuesday, I introduced the project, went over the rubric and answered questions. I had at least 3 different textbooks on the desks and I put all of the laptops away. The first 2 days consisted of gathering information and teaching themselves on their topic. One of my students commented to me after looking through the books on the first day, “This is going to be tough! We have to learn the material before we can teach it!” I smiled and asked my students if the lights were getting brighter in the classroom, because I saw the light bulbs going off above their heads. I was still concerned though. I was worried my 4 day time line for research and presentation construction wouldn’t be enough. Don’t get me wrong, I am ok with extending deadlines IF (and it is really a big if) the entire team is experiencing difficulty.

I allowed students on day 2 to work on the computers to gather more information and to begin putting their presentations together. I even showed them how to save pictures and place them into the backgrounds of the Power Points (PPT). I also reminded them on how to hyperlink websites to their PPTs and for a moment, they looked at me like I was the most intelligent human being they have ever seen. I have to say that it was one of those few times that I felt more knowledgeable about technology than they were. The really great thing was, my kids were working. They were working together to accomplish the same goal. They were focused. And I was bored. During a few periods, I wandered from raised hand to raised hand to clarify directions or to say “Yes, you can use the restroom.” It was a rather dull and uneventful day.

Day 3 was even more amazing. I showed my students how to download video clips from United Streaming and then hyperlink them into their PPTs. They were so ecstatic!

And the boredom continued to worsen. I was no longer needed, with the exception of a few questions such as “How does this look?” or “What if we did this…” or “We want to do this demo. Do you happen to have iron filings?” I brought my laptop in with me every day to help kids locate sample worksheets or video clips or information. But they didn’t need me. I guess I should be proud of them, like a momma bird pushing her fledglings out of the nest, my students were learning on their own. The thing was, they really didn’t struggle and have difficulty like a baby bird would – they were efficient, strong and ready. Almost too ready.

Day 4 was even better than day 3. My kids polished up their presentations, practiced demos, and even practiced giving their presentations by using stopwatches to see how long they were presenting for. They looked through the textbooks for sample problems and ideas for hands-on activities. They perused the Bill Nye DVD collection I have, in hopes of finding a 3 min video clip that could supplement their lesson.

I was so proud. My kids were finally there. They were independent learners, the objective I had been trying to accomplish all year long. You would think that I would be excited and relieved. And I was. I really was. It’s that Catch 22 thing – I was proud but I was also bored.

Next week, the kids will be giving their lessons to their classes. I am already impressed with their work ethic and their excitement with this project. I cannot wait to see how it goes. Yes, some will flounder, but so did I.

And I think I turned out ok.