The weather was absolutely gorgeous here on Veterans Day, and having caught up on all of my planning and paper grading, I decided to take a day off! (Anyone who knows me will realize exactly how big a deal that really is.)
As soon as I’d finished off two sausage burritos at the local Mickey-D’s and watched an hour’s worth of Judge Mathis—two selfish pleasures that I’m not all that proud of—I decided that I was going to spend 8 consecutive hours outside. Being a writer and a work-a-holic, I find that I sometimes miss daylight for weeks on end because I’m trapped behind a screen somewhere—so I needed to soak in some Vitamin D.
And being a guy who loves reading more than life itself (hyperbole, anyone?), I grabbed my Kindle, headed off to a local shopping complex with great options for outdoor seating, and settled in to crank through a few hundred pages of Pillars of the Earth—a Ken Follett historical fiction bit set during the Middle Ages.
Just as I’d hit my mental stride, my phone rang. I actually cursed, knowing that whoever was vibrating my hip was going to need more cognitive energy than I was willing to give. “WHY CAN’T PEOPLE LEAVE ME ALONE!” I thought, fully planning to let the call go straight to voicemail.
The only thing I hate more than phone calls, though, are voicemail messages! After all, it ain’t like I can just pretend that the vibrations never happened—-and once the message is left, it becomes my responsibility to call back. So I decided to answer—and when I saw my caller ID, my spirits lifted instantly:
Johnny, one of my favorite kids of all time was on the other end of the line!
Turns out that Johnny had just finished his last day of basketball tryouts for the junior varsity team at the local high school. Being a freshman—and being slightly smaller than the average 9th grader—Johnny was rightfully nervous about making the team and he just wanted to talk to me about the whole tryout process.
“I guess a bit of good news,” he said, “was that coach had me playing on the good team at the end of tryouts. We were taking on the returning 10th graders, and I got a bunch of minutes. I’m no where near as athletic as the older guys, but I didn’t stink either.”
Just listening to the hope in his voice was a reminder to me. You see, sometimes I forget that every one of the kids that I teach have the same kinds of dreams in their hearts. Some want to be gymnasts, soccer stars, or grid-iron heroes. Others want to be writers, doctors or lawyers. I’ve had future veterinarians in my room sitting next to microbiologists, rappers, deejays and dancers.
Sometimes twelve-year-old dreams seem logical and attainable and other times they seem like too much fantasy, but the neat part is that sixth graders still dream—and dreams are a source of incredible passion and personal interest. Johnny was willing to invest any amount of time and energy into making the basketball team, and to make the team would be a source of remarkable pride for him.
And my role is refreshing, don’t you think? I can inspire and guide and coach and train and lead and support and console kids as they walk towards a future they’d give anything for. While it’s often hard to remember, I’m a part of something much bigger than end of grade tests, state-mandated curriculum or a focus on results—even though it sometimes seems like my work is defined by nothing more than numbers.
Knowing just what Johnny needed to hear, I slipped into counselor mode: “Kid, even if you don’t make the team, I’m proud of you for trying out. We live in a world that rewards risk-takers, and that’s what you showed yourself to be today. And as a coach myself, I can tell you that I’d love to have you on my team. You’re a kind-hearted kid who supports your team-mates and hustles all over the floor. Those are traits that will serve you well for a long while.”
It felt good to reinforce Johnny’s dream—and it felt good that he came to me looking for support even after having left my classroom years ago.
This is why I teach.