I've been writing a column for ProFootballTalkLine.com. Here's the kicker, if you will. I was hired to write about the New York Giants. But I don't know anything about the New York Giants. I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I have been a Steelers fan since I was 13, which is umm... a whole bunch of years ago.
So, what does a skilled writer and teacher do when they need to write about something that they don't know anything about? They do some research.
Yes, there's that dirty word: research!
It's a word that, in my experience, students despise and run from.
To students, the word "research" means "work". But to a writer in need of a story, "research" equals "not sounding like a total idiot when I write about the New York Giants for a website that caters to hard-core Football fans."
And when you want to know about sports and teams the best resource is young people. I mean, who has the time to follow sports teams, with their daily deals and ins and outs like a kid shuffling school and extra curricular activities?
Okay, so there are some adults who follow sports like religion. In fact, some pray to the god of their favorite teams more fervently than they do in any house of worship.
So I went to the source.
I asked around between kids and parents. I discovered who the young New York Giants football fans were and went for it.
I now have a team of young analysts out there, between the ages of 10 and 16.
I do my own research, of course. but seeking out those who know more than I do makes me look intelligent when I write my own columns.
And as long as I look good, that's all that matters, right?
In all sincerity, I am grateful to the young devoted fans out there. I recall being that dedicated to a team. I recall having a bedroom plastered with posters of my favorite players.
Being a kid is a great thing. You get to be an expert in a topic before life and obligations fractures your focus. So, to all the young fans out there, stay committed for as long as you can.
It's a beautiful thing!
I took a friend and his son to a New York Giants preseason game. My friend and I are long-time Steelers fans. but his son, Jack, is a 10-year-old Giant superfan. The kid has been studying the Giants. At the age of 8, living in a Steeler-nation family, he bravely confessed his Giants allegiance to his parents. These were the early signals of leadership quality.
Since I possessed the tickets, Jack decided that I was a huge football fan. I'm not.
I remember lots of great teams and great plays from when I was a teenager and a Steeler fan, because then, I had the time and the commitment to be a fan.
"I'm gonna pound my shirt when I see Cleveland Brown's fans, Steve," Jack said, wearing his #15, Brandon Marshall shirt from last year's team. "I see any Brown's fans, I'm gonna pound my chest and yell COMMITTED! I'm gonna pound my chest an yell Committed, Steve!"
Jack speaks in a loop until what he is saying is acknowledged.
As we climbed the escalators to the 300 tier he said "I don't think anyone else is wearing a Brandon Marshall shirt, Steve." he looked around and repeated it. "I'm the only one wearing a Brandon Marshall shirt."
When we climbed to our perch in section 332, Jack remarked "these are great seats, Steve. Great seats," and sat down next to me, as far away from his Dad as possible. I would soon find out why.
We took in the stadium in all it's glory. There really wasn't a bad seat in the place. As high as we were, we could see the players on the field and make out what was happening without having to rely on the video screens.
"You think OBJ's gonna have a breakout game, Steve?" Jack was refering to the Giant's colorful star wide receiver, Odell Beckam Jr. OBJ. "I think OBJ's gonna have a breakout game."
"Jack," I said, "this is pre-season. They don't play their stars during pre-season. Teams use pre-season to see who they can use in what situations and to make last cut decisions."
"Yeah, yeah. I know," Jack said. "I just wanna see OBJ have a breakout game."
Here's the thing: Jack is a kid with learning disabilities. School does not come easily to him. At least it didn't. his parent's, who are huge advocates for their children, researched his needs and the barriers he had to being the learner he could be. They got him the services he needed.
Still. Jack was an outsider who did not make friends or fit in easily.
And then he discovered football.
Since joining the football team, Jack has changed. his confidence level shot through the roof. his ability to make himself heard was no longer an issue. And his ability to learn? The kid knows more stats than a Sunday afternoon commentator getting fed his or her info through a monitor or earpiece.
Football gave Jack a purpose. And he's running with it.
The Brown's emerged from their locker room to boos and jeers and a couple of cheers from the bold Brown's fans.
A lovely young woman sang the Star Spangled Banner beautifully.
The crowd applauded.
The coin toss.
"It's Sequon Barkley time!" Jack shouted, referring to rookie running-back sensation. "It's Sequon Barkley time, right Steve? Right? It's Barkley time!" he was bouncing in his seat. "BARKLEY TIME!!"
Sure enough the rookie back carried for a sudden 39-yard romp. Jack was jumping on his seat. Slapping hands with everyone around him and smiling big-time at the Brown's fans sitting close by.
But alas, the opening promise of Giants dominance was short-lived.
And here's where kids are more resilient than the average fan.
Like I said, I'm not much of a football fan. But in Jack's eyes, because I had tickets, I was elevated to the status of UberFan. At least someone he could talk to about the Giants.
Did I mention that I was a Steelers fan?
After Giants starting quarterback, 37 year old Eli Manning, did his thing, backup quartback David Webb entered the game and proceeded to suck in a Giant way, which Jack's Dad was happy to mention.
"Jack, your team needs a backup QB. Manning's got a year left. Maybe two. Maybe. Outside chance."
Jack's dad went to get some snacks and drinks. Jack leaned into me and said, "the Giants are really putting on a shit show, Steve. Aren't they? They're really putting on a shit show."
It was obvious to me how much fun jack was having letting those words roll off his tongue. It's a phrase with built-in alliteration and flow. And the word 'shit.'
"Don't think your Dad wants you to talk like that," I said.
"I know," jack said.
"It's the first pre-season games. They're not going to play their stars. They're looking at what the new players have to offer and what they have to work with. They try out new strategies, test out some new plays. It's not about winning."
"I get it. Can I just say one thing, though?"
"Giants are putting on a real shit show!"
When the game was coming to a close and it became crystal clear that the Giants were not going to win the day, Jack's positive attitude found a way to spin the night.
"At least we're at a football game, right Steve? At least we're at a real football game, Steve."
"You're right, Jack. It's great."
"It is, Steve. It's great."
Great. That a kid with learning issues can find a way to master the content and knowledge of something he loves. That's great!
I love being a teacher.
And I get kids that hate school.
Because I hated school when I was in it.
Couldn't think of anything more pointless.
The world was outside those windows and walls.
There was more happening on the lawn than inside any classroom.
More happening in the bathroom,
in the locker rooms,
on the basketball court,
on the soccer field.
On the streets.
In my house.
That's where life was happening.
I get the kids today who hate school.
And because I get them, because I am honest with them,
they are honest and open with me.
This is what they tell me:
Why do we have to all come to the same building to learn?
Why do we all have to be in the same room? Why can't I sit outside?
Why can't I be in the library while y'all up in here?
Why can't I be... anywhere else?
I can learn from anywhere. Helloo... wifi...
Can't we learn from home?
On a beach?
In a car.
We work from those locations, why can't we learn in those locations?
Why isn't all educational learning personalized? Kids are not robots.
They are not the same.
This is what they tell me:
Why do I have to know math? Why can't math people who love math learn it and I will learn about what I love:
Sustainable Cooking Practices!
Why do I need to know how to write an essay? I'm never going to write an essay.
I'm going to write tweets and posts that will establish my brand and educate the public about the benefits of my vision.
Do I need a topic sentence to do that?
I promise you, my writing will have a topic and a searing focus. It will inform and persuade and I will have the evidence to back it up or my mission will fail.
And I will learn from my mistakes.
Or I won't.
And I'll do something else while someone more passionate and committed than me will complete the mission.
They will build the brand.
They will do the heavy lifting.
They will get it right.
Then I will go to work for them.
Why can't I just learn from my trying and failing?
Why can't I just go out there and do it?
Just let me try.
Just let me try.
Just let me try it!
Just let me... be me.
Good teaching is helping kids follow their passions and become masters of their own interests.
A lot of what teaching is, is knowing when to get out of the way.
Hi. My name is Stephen Tesher. I am a novelist, screenwriter, educator, and father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and optioned screenplays, articles, and this blog.