DISCLAIMER: Certainly, if this blog had any readership at all, I would’ve gotten at least some pushback on my last post that attempted to show parallels between my coming to terms with two decades of soccer avoidance and my students’ self-sabotage, frustration and avoidance in math. While I firmly believe there are takeaways and learnings in the experience I am putting myself through (otherwise I wouldn’t have written the post), the comparison is problematic in some ways. I’m choosing to play soccer, after all, whereas I highly doubt the students to whom I’m trying to draw a parallel would suddenly flip a switch and give math their best effort in the name of a thought experiment. Beyond that, I am a human with enough experiences under my belt to convince myself that if I work at something then I will get better at it, and if I don’t, then I have a bunch of other accomplishments I can hang my hat on; my students are giant balls of insecurity, most of whom are undecided (and haven’t truly considered) whether putting one’s best foot forward will give them a good shot at getting better at something or will result in them humiliating themselves. These are the kids I really worry about; the ones who don’t feel they have anything to be proud of, at least academically. In short, the effect on a child’s psyche of feeling like an incompetent human being is not a fair comparison to the effect on a confident adult‘s psyche of feeling incompetent in the much smaller realm of soccer playing.
So, with that noted, let me – Mr. Shows Up With No Shinguards Forgot How To Kick Or Run Or Walk For That Matter – update you on my soccer season. The short version can be told in one word or less:
I scored one. It was a thing of beauty. No wait, the exact opposite. I was standing by the goal; a couple players bumped into each other, the ball spun and fortuitously came my direction. The goalie had fallen down somewhere else on the field. There I was, with the ball, looking at an empty net. I smacked it with all the force that someone puts into a two-foot golf putt. Slowly but surely, it crossed the goal line. No one celebrated or even smiled really, including me; it may have been the least glamorous goal ever kicked.
But it was a goal. And even though my face was all business the rest of the game, I was smiling ear to ear on the inside. This goal was real validation; not me feeling like I’m getting better at a drill, not someone telling me I’m getting better in the game, but the actual thing that you set out to accomplish.
This goal will soon be a distant memory and probably forgotten all together for everyone – except me, of course. I will remember this for a very long time, and it’s probably convinced me to give soccer at least another month.
This reminded me of a couple things related to my classroom:
1) That I should really do everything in my power to make sure my students – especially those aforementioned students on the fence about their identity as a math learner – score the math equivalent of a goal whenever possible. What is the math equivalent of a goal? Real success; not false praise. This opens up a bigger question of how to define “success” in a math classroom.
2) That the “size” of the accomplishment is completely relative to the individual. This goal was real, yes, but truly lackluster by most measures; it would have been meaningless to most people. But to me, it meant so much. A moment in the classroom that may seem small and insignificant can be the moment that validates a student who never felt that before. What moments can I create in my classroom to make those who rarely succeed feel like 1,000,000 bucks, and maybe walk into class the next day with some confidence?