It's 6 in the morning on a Saturday. The galumph of large, pre-teen feet shake the floorboards of the living room. Seconds later I hear the sing-song melody of the television turning on followed by the high-pitched screeching of cartoon characters. My 7th and 4th grader can barely make it to their school buses in the morning during the week, but come the weekend, they're up before the sun, in front of that television, and they will stay there until their toenails grow fungus roots into the couch cushions and the floor, which is progressively littered with the spray from whatever the hell they're eating.
That's the other part - they never stop eating. But they don't eat meals. You can cook them a healthy, nutritious and filling meal, they nibble at it. But in the middle of nowhere, one of them grabs a bagel and just starts to chew on it - too lazy to toast it, or butter it or apply cream cheese or even jelly. Just gnawing on a plain damn bagel.
These can't be my kids! I was raised, you don't eat a bagel without a schmeer of something! Veggie cream cheese, hummus, something!
7am: the dog's still not walked and the cat's still not fed. My sons are staring at the screen. One of them is drooling - spittle literally hanging off his bottom lip like un-chewed spaghetti. They'll live like this, in their pajamas, teeth unbrushed, breath smelling like rot, until moved.
"Walk the dog!" First words out of my mouth. before 'Good Morning!'
"Feed the cat?"
"Who wants eggs?"
Nothing. No response.
But if I switch that television off... oh my god! The whining! screaming!
"That's not fair!" Moaning.
Then they walk the dog. They get outside and re-enter... different people. They breathed fresh air. They moved their bodies.
But man, the thousand and twelve programs between Netflix and Youtube, Gumball and Bob's Burgers... my kids have a ton of fascinating things to watch.
"Why don't our kids read?" I lament to my wife.
"It's a different generation," she shrugs. Does she understand something I don't? Or does she not get it?
I know they read. They read at school, and they read at night in their beds. That's their wind-down, reading time. So, okay, they read. But sure as the sun will rise, Sunday morning, they'll be up bright and early again, watching like zombies until they're pushed out into the world again and awaken to the fact that there is tactile life - sticks to throw, balls to kick and chase, and possessions to fight over - things they will miss while drooling in front of the blue light of a screen.
Wait, I have to go. My show is on!
So, your child is in seventh grade.
I don't say that to frighten you - well, maybe I do. Seventh grade is one of the most significant times in a child's development, with physical, intellectual, social, family and academic challenges all happening at once. In other words, it's insane!
It's a buckle-up your seat belt kind of year.
So, buckle up, and let's discuss how you can best prepare your child and yourself for the strange and wonderful trip known as Grade 7!
YOUR CHILD WILL BE ABDUCTED BY ALIENS
When I was teaching 7th graders, my Back-To-School Night shpiel initially focused on the new level of skills the students would face. After all, this was their first year out of the coddling elementary grades, k - 6.
7th grade is the first year of secondary school. The work gets harder and more sophisticated. In English, kids are expected to infer deeper insights from their reading, make real world and bigger connections, and continue to use the text for their evidence while considering oppositional points of view.
They had to learn to cite their sources. That means they had to take notes as they read and researched. That means they had to be ORGANIZED!
Have you ever heard of a 7th grade boy that was organized? If so, point him towards the Guinness Book of World Records, because he is the first!
In math, kids went from adding, subtracting and multiplying fractions to algebra! ALGEBRA!! Negative integers and other crazy stuff. It blew their brains apart!
At the same time, boys are realizing that the girls have different body parts that start to look good to them and the girls blossom into full on bitches!
After two years of teaching 7th grade, I realized what I was dealing with. These weren't 12 and 13 year old boys; they were electrons, bouncing off the walls propelled by inner and outer forces that were completely beyond their comprehension.
Simply put, the 7th grade boy is abducted by aliens. Their body remains, but their mind is gone, controlled by forces unseen and undetectable. They're wild. But - and it's a key BUT - they can be controlled if you know what to look for.
The 7th grade girl is the horrific witnessing of the coming of age development from cute little girl to mean bitch. Sorry, Mom, sorry, Dad, but it's true. Girls in 7th grade learn that they have a power called 'mean' and they wield it like a new favorite toy. 7th grade girls are vicious. They move in packs. They attack anyone, anywhere.
They will eat their own!
Meanwhile, the 7th grade boys remain blissfully clueless, lost in their alien-controlled-silliness.
Consequently, that Back-To-School-Night talk changed. I stopped talking about the curriculum, stopped talking about secondary level work, about the homework, and the growing responsibility of the the students. Instead, I took a poll:
"Who here in the room has had a child in 7th grade before?" I asked. Usually about half the parents' hands went up.
"Okay, and who in the room has never had a child in 7th grade before?" The other half of the room's hands went up.
"Those of you who are new to being a seventh grade parent, meet your support group - those who have been down this road before. Pair up. Find a buddy, a sponsor, whatever you need to call it. You are going on a rough, and rocky ride."
All the parents who have had 7th graders before are nodding their heads vigorously, looking down at the newbie parents with both pity and empathy.
One of the best defenses you can have to prepare for the 7th grade year is to help your child be organized.
If they haven't before, 7th grade will be the first year that your child will have a different teacher for each subject. As a teacher, I can promise you that most teaching staff DO NOT communicate with each other about what they expect from their students to be prepared.
One teacher wants a 3-ring binder with pockets
Another teacher wants folders.
One teacher wants everything written in pen
The other only wants pencils
And still another will only deliver their lessons online, so kids have to type everything.
Highlighters, pencils, black pens, blue pens, loose-leaf paper, notebooks, journals, protractors, your own calculator, trig calculator's, backpacks, file folders, keep everything in your locker, store everything in the classroom, study every night, homework every night, reading every night.
It goes on and on. And it can be very overwhelming, especially for kids, like my own son, who find being organized a gigantic chore.
The solution: Find what works best for your child. This may take some trial and error. Go shopping for the right book bag together. Some kids love pockets and they help the child's mind compartmentalize what's in each pocket of their backpack.
I'm an adult, and I still love lots of pockets on my backpack (Yes, I have a backpack - don't judge me!). It helps me organize my mind.
If you can fit more than one subject into a binder, do it. It saves so much time, and space. Carrying around four or six binders for all their subjects can get very heavy. Add the textbooks that teachers want shlepped home and back to school each day, and suddenly, your little boy is working like a hiking sherpa's pack mule.
I've seen little kids, walking half bent down the halls of school, just trying to carry their heavy backpacks. They look like little old men and women, bent and aging and rickety.
Some industrious kids used the carry-on size suitcases with roller wheels and the extendable handle. Of course, some schools ban the luggage option claiming that their hallways aren't big enough; but they're just fine letting kids strain their backs every day, during major growth periods. Just another example of how the business of education is retarded.
Fight the stupid systems that schools put into place to keep the flow of children through the hallways a priority over their physical health.
And here is a hint: any school that emphasizes traffic flow over physical health concerns is a school with poor behavior management. YOU DON'T HAVE TO MANAGE THE TRAFFIC FLOW OF HAPPY, PEACEFUL KIDS WHO AREN'T LUGGING TWICE THEIR WEIGHT IN MATERIALS LIKE DONKEYS.
There are many kinds. One of the best I ever saw was designed like a fishing tackle box, but small enough for a backpack.
Get one that works for your child.
Do not - I repeat - DO NOT let your child carry their pencils, pens and markers loosely. They will disappear quickly. I guarantee it.
IF YOUR CHILD'S SCHOOL ISSUES COMPUTERS AND CALCULATORS
You will receive a letter explaining your child's obligation to not misuse, damage or lose their loaned device. You will be forced to sign it before your child can obtain the loaned device. They will quote you costs for repair to damaged devices. DO NOT BELIEVE THE PRICE!
Something happens to that device on loan YOU go get it fixed somewhere for WAY LESS EXPENSE! Trust me on this. The schools will overprice repair. Probably someone's relative owns he repair company and is making a profit by aligning with the school.
I wish I was wrong but this happens.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Kids don't know what's mean or not yet. And 7th graders are right in the eye of the testing-the-waters-of-appropriateness shit-storm. So, just don't.
It goes something like this:
"Mom, can I have a snapchat account?"
Keep it simple. You can explain later.
More on 7th grade insights as the year progresses.
"7:30! Screens off!" I declared.
My son, who was in the middle of watching a basketball video, closed his laptop.
"You need to power it down," I said. "If you just close it, the laptop's still running. Your information is still active. people can hack in while you sleep." Granted, I made some things up. I wanted to make my point.
"But if I power it down, I'll lose information. I'll lose things I was working on."
"Well, you knew that you were shutting off at 7:30. So, you could have saved what you had before the deadline," I said, holding my children to a higher standard than myself. I've flipped down my own laptop tons of times.
"So, if you're in the middle of a job application, you just shut if off and lose all of your information?"
Now I'm wondering why my almost 12 year old is filling out job applications.
"You should complete the application, save it to your computer, in a word doc, or downloaded to your documents folder, and turn off your computer. That way, you're not leaving any cookies or threads from your personal work out there, running."
"Then why do all the other kids at school do it?"
"Son, do you want to be like everybody else or do you want to be smart?"
He held his head down, stared at the floor. "I wanna be smart," he mumbled.
"Good," I said. "Okay. Let's turn our devices off and get ready for bed."
My kids did as they were told. I wanted them to get to bed. I wanted to not have to think about what they needed any more this night. I wanted to get to my own work and fun distractions.
About an hour or so later, I came to a gigantic realization!
I thought I was trying to teach my son a lesson. In truth, I was really just trying to be right. By the end of the argument, my son felt defeated. His head was low. He was mumbling the words he knew I wanted to hear.
I had won. And he had lost.
I felt like absolute shit.
My mother was the household rule maker. My father was the 'This-is-how-you-do-it' guy. When I was turning into a teenager and arguing my points, I would raise counterpoints to my mother's rules. I would point out loopholes in the household law, just like my son was tryin to do. My mother shut that down. Quite frankly, my mother and my father do not know how to be wrong.
And guess what they passed down to me?
My father's way of doing things was always the 'right ' way: how to tie a knot. How to set up a camp. How to pack the car. How to fix a bicycle. How to open a jar of pickles.
Every how-to lesson that he taught us was The Way to do that thing.
It's scary to be wrong. What if your child discovers that they have more power? What if they realize that you're not always right? That there is the possibility - the outside chance - that they are right and you just didn't realize it yet.
That can be scary for a parent. For anybody.
My mother fought for attention her whole life. She grew up in the shadow of an accomplished older brother who received the accolades for his achievements. Even before she set out on what would be a very accomplished career, her opinion was not to be questioned. She defended her reasoning, no matter how flawed, fiercely. No matter what kind of argument - logical or, as sometimes was the case, not - she made sure I saw that she was right. And I, too, admitted my defeat, by repeating the words she wanted me to say.
Since my parents did not know how to be wrong, I learned that feeling of defeat. And I suddenly recalled all the times throughout my life when I chose not to speak up, because I had been taught that my opinion was wrong. It was a feeling that carried into adulthood. I chose the sidelines as opposed to standing up for my ideas. I became more of an observer that a doer. I was taught to accept that I was probably wrong by parents who had to be right.
I was passing on that same lesson of defeat to my son. I was horrified. I was disgusted. And I was grateful that I was able to recognize the pattern I was repeating.
I raced upstairs to my son's room.
"May I come in?"
"Sure," he said. He was lying in bed, staring off. He looked sad.
"I need to apologize to you, son. I... when we were arguing about the computer, you were making a very good point about saving your work. But I needed to be right. So I tried to prove how right I was instead of recognizing that you had a good point. I wanted to teach you, but instead, I ended up needing to defeat you. I was doing something that my parents did to me. And it didn't make me feel good about myself. That's what I was doing to you. And I'm sorry. I am so sorry."
He smiled at me a little. "Thanks for apologizing."
"Son, it's better to speak up for what you believe and be wrong, than to never have spoken up at all. I was wrong."
"You were trying to teach me something, Dad. But you do the same thing. I've seen you. So, you can't teach something and then do it yourself. That makes you a hypocrite."
"That's a great word. Where did you learn that word?"
"I read it in a book."
"So, you do read?"
"Lots. Whattaya think - all I do is watch videos?" He smiled that smile, knowing that he put anoher one past me.
I was wrong again. I have never been so happy to be so wrong.
Our children will grow up and learn things that I never did. My sons will know things about the world I won't. Their world will be different and they will be experts in that world while I will be an observer. I will always have common sense lessons to pass on, but when it comes to the details - and especially to my hypocritical do as I say not as I do lessons, my sons will, hopefully, point out the flaw in my ethics.
We want to be teachers to our kids. The best teaching is modeling, teaching by doing, and passing on the practice. I like to think that we all want to be better parents to our kids. One of the best ways to do that, I believe, is to admit our faults whenever possible.
If I had left things as they were, my son would have gone to bed with a defeated, deflated feeling. he would have woken up with that feeling. And I would have totally succeeded in chipping away at his self-esteem.
By apologizing to my son and admitting my error, his confidence was rescued from being crushed underneath my own feet. I helped to build his self-esteem and in so doing, I helped to prepare him for the next obstacle in his life. Because confidence, and the right attitude, is everything.
"Dad, can I ask you a question?" my son asks.
"What's a tampon?"
I'm speeding down the Taconic State Parkway like many insane sports dads, focused on getting my son to his 6th grade basketball tournament game on time. We have a tendency to leave late for everything. Even after I give my son a half hour departure warning... then a 20, 10, and 5 minute departure update warning, at go time, he's still on the couch, playing on his tablet, in bare feet and shorts. And, of course, I feel responsible, like it's my fault that I allowed him to be late.
After a flurry of shouts and rushing, we're in the car, leaving two minutes later than I wanted to leave. Two minutes. And now I'm staring at the GPS like a madman, seeing if I can bring that arrival time down to the ideal time as suggested by our coach.
Like I said, insane.
My son's recovered from the push to leave. He turns those emotional corners quickly. I'm still obsessed with the GPS arrival time. He's watching the world go past, outside his window when he asks the question above.
"You don't need to know about that right now," I say, as I try to figure out if I should take the Taconic to the Bronx River or continue onto the Sprain Brook.
I think I've answered his question adequately. But then my altruist parental mind takes over. He's asking the question, so he knows something about it. If he doesn't get the answer from me, he'll ask someone else. And that someone else might not offer as responsible an answer as I hope to.
"Why do you want to know?" I ask.
"When I was at summer camp, someone dared me to ask a girl what a period was."
I veer into the next lane, correct myself, and refocus.
"Did you ask the girl?"
"No!" he exclaims, like how dare I even question that. "But I think I know what a tampon is. Because when the kid asked me to ask about a girl's period, I knew what that was... it's like when a girl bleeds out of her... privates." He whispers the word 'privates' to me.
He doesn't ask if he's right, he just puts it out there. There's a confidence there that I admire.
"That's more or less what its purpose is," I say, feeling totally inadequate. "I mean, the purpose of a tampon is to absorb the blood that comes out. Like a huge bandaid."
'Huge' is the wrong word.
"Like a plug." Even a worse word choice. But it's been said and can't be unsaid.
"Oh," he says, getting his own image and I'm certain I'm failing miserably at this. "Dad, why does a girl bleed out of her privates?"
And now we're into it, the birds and the bees talk. Except he's less than a month away from twelve. Twelve! I thought this talk didn't happen until Fifteen or sixteen. Another example of how unprepared I really am as a parent. But here we are, and I'm about to explain how a girl's menstrual cycle works while driving 70 miles per hour down a New York State parkway.
"Each month a young woman's body prepares to make a baby. The body builds a... home inside the young woman, a place where the baby can be made and grow."
"And that happens every month?" he asks.
"So, why does it bleed?"
"Well, if a baby is not made, all the stuff that was made for the baby needs to get... tossed out. Or it goes bad if it's not used. So the body flushes it out. And that is what bleeds out."
"Does it hurt?" he asks. "It must hurt."
"It's very uncomfortable. They get cramps and it makes them very... moody."
"Oh." He goes quiet for a second. "Do they get a period if they're pregnant?"
"No," I say. "Once a girl gets pregnant..., Look, you're playing a good team today. This is the semi-finals. If you win, you'll be playing in the championships!"
"Don't change the subject, Dad. If you don't want to talk about it, that's okay. I can youtube it."
"Okay, so once a young woman gets pregnant, everything that her body made to make the baby gets used. So it's needed and the body keeps it. So nothing gets thrown out. You understand? The body keeps it all. And... the human body is an amazing thing. It's very complicated." I pause, check the GPS. "We're almost there. Can you tell me where to turn?"
"Up ahead, 0.6 miles, you're going to make a right."
"So, does a girl still bleed when she's pregnant?"
"Woman. A woman does not. Her body makes the baby. Then the baby comes out."
I do not dare get into all the details of the miracle of childbirth, and how many women and couples have suffered through miscarriages or one failed attempt after another to have a baby; I dare not mention the millions of young women who do get pregnant when they don't want to. I do not dare get into that with my 11 year old son. I keep the conversation as simple as possible. I am certain that I am failing in my explanation. I am worried as hell that I'm putting images in his head that he will obsess over. I am worried that he will be thinking about periods and pregnancy instead of remembering how to run the motion offense or know his position on defense. In about twenty minutes he's going to be standing on a basketball court and I envision him standing in the low-post, rebounds bouncing off his head as he scans the crowd for young women who might, at that very moment, be having their period. Because he would. He would wonder what that looks like and how to identify it.
"Dad, how do babies get made?"
"Oh, look! We're here!"
Middle school years are hell. And 7th grade is the middle year of the hell years. 7th grade is the middle child year of three hellish children.
Let me break it down:
6th graders are the youngest child. They're still eager to please, still listening to their parents and teachers. They're still love-able. An so we spoil them.
The 8th graders is the oldest child of the three. 8th graders are more independent creatures. These kids are finally asking the question: who am I and what makes me, well... me? It can be weird and awkward and painful. But a real conversation between parent and child is possible. A word of warning, there will be grunting and eye-rolling. Nonetheless, conversations that make sense with authentic give-and-take are achievable.
The 7th grader is the middle child of the middle school family. They are the center of hell; they are the eye of the storm.
The 7th grade child is essentially insane. Out of their minds. And certainly, way too cool to listen to anything their parents have to say. Trust me, it's not you, it's them!
As my friend Franky so perfectly put it, "when she was 10 years old, I was still the hero of my daughter's life. She asked me all kinds of questions and she thought I knew everything. Then she turned 11 and I suddenly became an idiot."
Franky's daughter, like most girls, arrived at this 'hellish insanity' a little before 7th grade. What an 11 or 12 year old girl's friends say and do and think becomes more valid than anything their parents could ever say, do, or think. Once they hit that level, the hero-parent quickly fades to the back of their 'who matters to me' line up.
"Do you have any idea what it's like to be replaced by Chelsea, the know-it-all spoiled little bitch from my daughter's class? Seriously. It's all I hear - 'Chelsea said this and Chelsea said that. And Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea.' Fuck Chelsea!"
- anonymous fed-up parent.
7th grade boys, on the other hand, have no clue what's going on. Their brains get sucked up into some intergalactic, alien-controlled, black hole in deep deep space. They become unbelievably ridiculous and silly, while also being unbelievably moody. They're like the morose and edgy Shrek combined with the high-spirited, ready-for-anything Donkey. And you will never know which personality is about to come out. Until it does.
In a classroom, the boys bond with the boys and the girls bind with the girls. Typically. Even if the boys like the girls or the girls like the boys there remains this allegiance to the pact.
That said, this is the year that the girls claim their affection for boys. The boys are not ready for it. They don't know what to do.
Once I had a bonafide couple in my class. A young 7th grade boy and a 7th grade girl. They both came from wrecked households and were clinging to each other like lifeboats. They remained together for at least two years. It was very sweet. They were ahead of their time, but through awful necessity.
I'll leave that for another post.
In summation, 7th grade is the year of the changeling. Your son or daughter will morph from whatever sweet 6th grade they once inhabited into a whirling dervish of emotion, grunts, moans, whines and potty mouth. It ain't pretty.
Boys will lose all control of their organizational abilities. DO NOT, I repeat, Do Not go into their back pack alone. It is dark and scary. There will be clumps of papers, some of them vitally important for their classes; there will be sticky things, old food, and unidentifiable objects. Power-washing their backpack is recommended at season's end.
For the love of god, do not go in there alone.
Girls become obsessed with the in-crowd and who is popular. And sadly, many will do whatever it takes to be accepted.
Warning: watch what your daughter wears to school. Chances are, the hoodie and sweater or long sleeve t-shirt they leave the house in is not what they will walk around the school wearing. They will have a spare wardrobe somewhere in their bag or beneath the clothes they leave the house in. And that spare wardrobe is carefully chosen to reveal whatever assets they choose to show off - midriff, cleavage, legs and/or derriere. They are seeking attention that will get them accepted or attention. This attempt sometimes backfires and they gain negative labels from their peers which can be devastating.
There was once an incident in which a 7th grade girl won the affection of a boy away from his previous 7th grade girlfriend. The previous girlfriend rounded up a group of her friends. They lured the other girl into an ambush and beat her badly enough to send her to the hospital. When she returned to school, the initial girl had to be escorted by security between classes for her safety.
That is how serious it can get.
Arm yourself with support from family and friends and possibly outside counseling; your daughter may need it. And so will you!
You can do a lot to prevent a bad experience for your child by monitoring what she is wearing when she is actually in school.
But do not worry. Millions of parents have navigated this dark valley before you. You are not alone. In fact, in my former "Back-to-School" nights as a 7th grade teacher, I stopped discussing curriculum at all and took a poll of which parents in the room had already gone through the 7th grade experience with an older child and which had not. Then I created a support group. I told the parents that their children were about to be abducted by aliens and may be returned by June. No promises. Sure enough, later in the year, many of those parents returned to thank me for the 'heads-up'. My little tip helped them prepare for the rocky road ahead. And hopefully it will help you, as well.
You are not alone. There is help. Reach out, ask questions, and seek-out support groups. You will need it. We all did. We are here to help.
More to come. Thanks for reading.
Sterling Shepard is the unsung hero of the New York Giants’ wide receiving dynamic duo. At 24 years old, in his 3rd season out of Oklahoma, Sterling is as promising a player as one might want. Over 3 seasons, he has caught 168 passes for a total of 1,987 yards. He has 13 career touchdowns. This year he’s already pulled in 44 catches and 3 touchdowns. He has stepped up when his dynamic duo superstar, Odell Beckham Jr., has not. And Shepard has always had his back.
Beckham is in his 5th season in the league. He has caught 382 passes for a total of 5,356 yards and 43 touchdowns. When he is hot he’s one of the best in the league. When he’s off, he is fiery.
When Beckham won his record-breaking contract, Sterling Shepard, celebrated with him. Beckham now makes 90 million dollars over 5 years. That’s almost 20 million a year. Shepard makes just under 6 million over 4 years. That’s about 1.5 million a year. Beckham is a better player than Shepard. And contracts rarely represent true value. But that’s a big difference.
When asked about Beckham’s passionate speeches to the team, calling them out on their play and demanding that they step up to the kind of game they all know they can play, Shepard stood by Odell’s words. In a locker room interview, Shepard said, “Everybody felt it. It was genuine. Things get taken out of context sometimes.”
As wingmen go, Sterling Shepard is proving to be one of the best to a superstar receiver who is often in the limelight. Shepard lives in Odell’s shadow. But he’s not overshadowed y the Giants’ larger-than-life receiver. Number 13 may have the salary and the highlight reel to back up his play. But Shepard is steadily there, steadily there, steadily there.
Just as Sterling’s father was there for his son until he wasn’t.
Sterling Shepard’s father, Derrick, was a walk-on star for the Oklahoma Sooner’s football team. he was undersized but became the team captain. He played on the 1985 Sooner National Championship team, then played for five years in the NFL with Dallas and Washington, and playing on a Superbowl winning team. Derrick returned to Oklahoma as a graduate assistant and a coach. He gained recognition for his coaching skills. He was a natural. Derrick Shepard eventually took a full-time position at the University of Wyoming.
A couple of weeks into the job, Derrick died of sudden heart failure at the age of 35. Sterling was 6.
The Shepard family was devastated. Ever since Sterling was included as part of the Sooner home. He was included in their games and practices until about the age of 14. In high school, Sterling Shepard started standing out on his own merit, gaining the attention of several college football programs around the country. He wore the same number that his father wore – number 3. Eventually, Shepard played for his Dad’s Alma mater.
Sterling Shepard may not yet be making the money he deserves, but perhaps he’s playing for something more important than money. His mother believes that, even though Sterling’s father, Derrick, never got to see his son play football, he would be so proud of him. Sterling agrees, saying “to see what point I’m at now [in my career as a football player], I don’t think he could help but be happy.”
We’re sure he is. Not just for the player his son, Sterling Shepard, is, but for the man, he is as well.
What price can you put on that?
A New Profoortalkline.com post. And a good one!
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 writer and an educator. Most importantly, I am a father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and written screenplays, articles, and this blog. I write about kids in crisis. I write about parents trying to figure it all out. I write about learning from failure and the resulting successes.