Monthly Archives: April 2011

Learning to Suck

I started playing hockey with my buddy Robb.  It’s a developmental league, a safe place for newbies like us to learn basics.  It’s been the most fun I’ve had in a while, a much needed replacement for the the busy schedule of rock and roll-playing that has all but disappeared.


But why bring up hockey on your teaching blog, Sonny?  You’re wasting our time with your dumb hobbies! Boo.  Hiss.  We’re headed elsewhere, you phoney!


Calm down, pals.  I bring it up here for this reason: I’m terrible at it.


Like really really awful. Mighty Ducks before Coach Bombay bad.


Ducks fly together!

And it’s refreshing to be awful at something.  As teachers, we quickly forget that the material we cover is difficult for some people.  I’ve read The Odyssey four years in a row–I understand it (more or less).  But I can’t expect every student to grasp its formal language, themes, and similes without some practice, even if then.


It’s advice I’ve heard before: take a class in something outside of your comfort zone.  It’ll give some insight into your struggling students’ attitudes and perceptions of your class.  Out on the ice–surrounded by actual hockey players uprooted from Michigan, Canada, and even Russian–I’m clueless, lost, trying my best to absorb all of the information around me.  I fall down.  I miss passes.  I skate to where I’m supposed to be, then glide past it, for I haven’t nailed down how to stop yet.


Some of my kids can’t see context clues or use apostrophes.  It’s the same thing–a lack of experience and a deficiency of skill.  With some practice and a patient teacher, they could get it.  Except–and here’s the difference–I want to play hockey.  They’re being forced to take an English class, something they’ve struggled with all their lives and would give up at the first chance.  And whether this deficiency (if that’s the fairest word for it) comes from a learning disability, a bad attitude, or (more common) poor upbringing is really besides the point.  This is where they are.  They hate English.  Books are bad, and–to paraphrase Burris Ewell–ain’t no snot-nosed slut of a school teacher can make them do anything.


So what to do?  I empathize, yes, but that’s where the advice from teacher publications ends: just feel sorry for your students, give ’em a break already.  I don’t want to lower my expectations; that sends the wrong message, right?


What do I need to do in hockey?  Practice.  Make sacrifices.  Endure.  Even when it sucks.  I’m asking for the same from my kids; I just have a better idea of what that actually means now.