Wednesday, May 11, 2005

What are we teaching our kids about sportsmanship?

Last Saturday was the last game of the Spring season for my daughters' team, the Titans. Our girls lost the game 2-1 to a team that I believe is not as good as ours. I don't think we lost because of a biased ref or bad calls. I can't say we lost because our girls didn't put forth the effort it takes to win. There are many reasons our team did not win. One reason is that our girls (I am assistant coach) did not know how to handle the sort of tactics used by the opposing team, particularly their coaches. The other team's coach encourages his kids to knock people down, pinch and step on feet when the referee is not looking, and intimidate through words. These same coaches complained throughout the game when their own girls fell down or got bumped during the normal course of play. One coach said to one of our players, "Too bad you suck!" as she went down the sideline and after the game refused to shake hand with any coaches or players.

What we have here is a sort of disconnect between the I'm a victim and Win at all costs mentalities. I see this professional sports all the time and I remember running into these sorts of players and coaches when I was involved with sports. Perhaps there is a little of this in all sports fanatics. But when a coach of young people feels the need to act this way, especially toward young children, then something is very wrong. For these people, it is not the momentary lapse of reason that one has when supporting a team. This is a lifelong attitude.

I'm not sure what can be taught to kids on the other team unless their parents see the problem and step in. But I have to teach our girls, or at least try. And the lessons they learn from this experience cannot be taught in a locker room session or discussion at the next practice. Surely kids need to know such people exist, and they need tools to deal with them. I certainly was not prepared to give this lesson, though I knew they were poor sports.

A few games ago, I had a run in of sorts with a different opposing coach. Our girls were winning quite handily and he made some comments about running up the score. I snapped back at him something inappropriate. He yelled at me. I yelled at him. Our conversation got quite heated. I knew I crossed a line when a curse word came out of my mouth. I stepped back, but he was too upset to let it go...for the moment. The referee had to stop the game to tell us to focus and to consider the girls on the field (most of whom, I believe) did not even notice what was going on.

The next week, when tempers were cooled, this coach made an effort to come speak to me and to our other coaches and apologize. I did the same. We both recognized that we had lost sight of the reasons we were out there: the kids. I have a great deal of respect for this coach. His own frustration, I believe, came from what he perceived as a slight against his girls. He wants to win, but he wants more to see those girls get something positive out of the experience of playing soccer. And forgive the sexist comment, but he acted like a man, not only in apologizing, but in being gracious in accepting my apology. That he treated my team with the dignity and respect he expects others to treat his team, I think teaches my girls as well as his, some of the important lessons that show why sports itself can be valuable.

Awhile ago the coach of my daughter's team got very caught up in a game and spent a lot of time screaming at the kids, the referee, and others. This is a person who I respected, a man who had taught my girl a great deal and improved not only her play, but her self-esteem. After a time, he wrote an email to all the parents apologizing for his actions. At the next practice, he took each girl aside individually and apologized to them. That took guts I know most people don't have, but I will think of him every time someone like the jerk I mentioned above comes along. We always say, "It's all about the kids" and "People need to take responsibility for their actions." But here I saw it. I think it is obvious what these people teach not just to kids, but to all of us on the lifelong journey for self-improvement.

Monday, May 09, 2005

End of the semester notes (Spring 2005)

Well, it has been a busy semester. I realized that I haven't blogged since February, and I have some catching up to do. For now, I'd like to discuss a few things about education since I have spent so much of my time and energy on this.

Plagiarism. I have been plagued by students who, despite all they have been taught, and all that they should know, either believe they have not committed plagiarism or want to pretend that they didn't know. Am I to really believe this? I have had a few students this semester who will claim over and over that they have not done this even when I take the time to show them how portions of their papers are word for word what I have found on the net.

Know yourself (Or at least read the syllabus). In the past couple weeks, I have had conversations with students who claim they did not know they were failing. I am inclined to believe them. I have a policy I call the "Five Error Rule." Basically it means that if a student makes five mistakes that he/she should not make at whatever level, then the paper must be rewritten, usually after consultation at our Learning Assistance Center. Students usually have a week to perform this task. This seems to work a bit better than giving the opportunity to revise after the students earns an F, because under that system, half the students just dropped the course and of those that did not, only a few papers were revised. But this semester, I have had a few students who have ignored my sometimes many notes to revise their work. When asked why, some said they did not know I had made such a request. Some had not even checked their grades online. Some did and figured that as long as they occupied a seat in the class, I would not fail them. (Of course, I fail no one. They fail themselves.)

I blame three things for this problem. First, I think that our system of organized babysitting that we call public school encourages such notions. Even when a hard working and gifted and dedicated teacher works to make students accountable for their own lack of initiative or drive, that teacher is often hindered by policies that give students chance after chance to do screw around all year and still pull it out. Second, we have a culture that hammers home the idea that if a student does not think the work of a course is important, then she/he can put less effort into their tasks. This goes with the third problem: laziness. One study showed that 75% of college students cheat. When asked why, most of these students state that the courses they cheat in are merely hoops they must jump through, are not important, and they would rather do anything else than spend the time and energy it takes to write a paper or study for an exam.

Take responsibility for your apathy. I'm sure every teacher gets students near the end of the semester who suddenly seem intensely interested in the course when previously they have shown not only no concern, but often open hostility to learning. Some of these students look for extra credit to do at the end of the term though they have not turned in some of the major assignments. Many act surprised that they are failing. One student a week ago actually told me that he figured he'd pass if he kept showing up and turned in something for each assignment. This week I have had two students take an option final exam though it could not possible improve their grades. One of the students told me she figured I would not fail her if she did it.

Look, I cannot make a student care. I try to be accessible, understand and all that stuff. I try to help students value the experience of my class and the skills they should gain, but I can only do so much. We need to quit allowing students in public schools to blow off the majority of the year only to pull it out at the end. I told a student the other day, "If you do not care about the course, that's fine. But you need to be prepared for the consequences of your apathy."

Some students complain that I do not give a "review" of their tests. Of course, I do tell students what the format of their exams is and I remind them of what material will be covered. But I refuse to try to re-teach students material they have spent weeks ignoring. There is a reason I am required to be on campus and available many more hours per week than I am in class. There is a reason I have email and a phone. Why students, after they have done little or nothing, expect me to give them a break...and don't get me started on the "I've just never been good at English." One student told me this right after telling me she usually got A's and B's in high school. My answer: You are there to learn, not perform.