Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Letter to My Students (and a basketball story)

I was fifteen years old and playing JV basketball.

One day in an informal scrimmage in which my coach was playing, he posted up on the right side of the key near the free throw line. Give me the ball, he gestured. I didn't. Pass me the ball, he gestured again. I still didn't.

He stopped the scrimmage. "What's going on?" he asked.

"I can't do a right-handed hook pass," I confessed. "I'm left-handed, you know."

"See that wall over there," my coach replied, pointed to the far end of the gym. "Go there and practice hooking until you can get the ball to me."

Embarrassed and even a little angry, I went to the wall and practiced my right-handed bounce pass. Bounce pass hook, bounce pass hook, cross-step bounce pass hook.

And then I came back to the scrimmage sideline, the echoes of bounce passes still lingering in my mind in counterpoint to the drumming dribble of the scrimmage ball. The coach gestured me into the game, back at point. He posted high in the key, to my right, and gestured. Give me the ball.

My friend guarding me read the situation and over-played to the right. I faked a shot to move his weight upward, and then cross-stepped to place my body between the defender and the ball. Cross-step, hook, and bounce pass to the post.

I competently did my part for the team, and the brown thing went through the round thing--two for our team.

Why have I written this anecdote, students and readers of mine?

Teachers may not always do what you want them to do; they may not always choose to give you the comfortable task, the most delightful activity. In the scrimmage, I could have passed to someone else, the coach could have ignored the moment, the game would have gone on; yet who knows if I would have ever gained competency in the right-handed hook pass? I could have compensated for that weakness for the rest of my basketball career if my coach had "passed" in recognizing and acting to the needs of the moment.

Teachers need to give their students what they need to grow, which is not always what a student wants. Believe me, I know. I've stood there, bouncing the ball against the lonely wall, echoes mocking my insecurities, feeling my inadequacies full-court pressing my abilities.

I'm glad someone helped me gain a skill I needed to be competent, to be a player in the game. I'm glad my coach was clear, firm, and supportive. May I be a good enough teacher to someday do the same for you.

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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