Thursday, February 13, 2014

5th Inning-Stay Committed

On May 30, 1982, Cal Ripken, Jr. trotted out to his position at shortstop at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.  This signified day one of what many believe is a truly unbreakable record--an example of commitment and dedication that is mind-boggling to those of us who have competed in any sport, let alone baseball.

Ripken started that game, and every one for the remainder of the 1982 season.  He did the same for the next 16 years, playing in an amazing 2,632 consecutive games at the major league level.  No matter how poorly he may have played the night before, or what physical ailment he may have been dealing with, Ripken always took the field the next day.  No matter what personal issues he may have been struggling with or pressures he may have been enduring, #8 was a fixture in the Orioles lineup.

As educators, every day we walk into our respective buildings can be considered a new game.  Just as members of a baseball team each have their own roles they are expected to fulfill (i.e. pitcher, catcher, outfielder, infielder), we all have specific duties that have been assigned to us (math teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal).  

As we go through the day-to-day business of our jobs, it can be easy to stray from our one purpose as educators.  Outside influences, personal issues, politics, and numerous other distractors can take us away from our real reason for being here.

It's important that we remember to stay committed.

"My approach to every game was to try to erase the games that were before, and try to focus on the game at hand."

-Cal Ripken, Jr.
Baseball Hall of Famer

Baseball games are usually won or lost in what we refer to as the "middle innings" (innings 3-6).  The reason for this is simple:  basic human nature causes every one of us to lose focus for a period of time, no matter what the task at hand may be.  During a 9-inning game, most players have no problem "getting up" for the first couple of innings, allowing the excitement of a fresh start to motivate them.  Likewise, the last three inning of a game tend to be filled with high drama--pinch hitters, pitching changes, do-or-die plays that seem to be the difference in the final outcome.  

However, it's those middle innings that truly tend to make the difference.  As many players begin to come down from the adrenaline rush of the first inning, and have not yet begun to get themselves psyched up for the theater of the ninth inning, it's common for the focus and commitment to wane.  For that reason, those teams who are able to stay committed to the goal (for players, that's to WIN) during those middle innings usually find themselves on top when that final 27th out is recorded.

If we were to look at the average school year through the metaphor of a baseball game, February 13 would fall right into the middle innings.  Think about it:  when school begins in August, we're all excited.  There are new students to meet, new colleagues to collaborate with, and sometimes new changes to the physical layout of the buildings we work in.  In some cases, we might even be starting a brand new job, with a new set of expectations and responsibilities.  The adrenaline rush of the first few weeks of school is a real, tangible thing.

The end of the school year has a similar rush, though it is brought about by different factors.  For a high school teacher, the end of the year means preparing students for final exams, enjoying the festivities that go along with prom and end of the year field trips, nice weather, and the pinnacle of why we do what we do--graduation.

Now, February, on the other hand....ugh.

No one really wants to come out and say this, but I'll be honest:  it's a grind.  This year especially, as we deal with polar vortex #4 and the groundhog laughing at us, it's been tough to stay as motivated as most of us would like to be.

Every day throughout the halls, offices, and staff cafeterias of America, conversations are taking place between teachers revolving around Common Core standards, TRS, Illinois pension reform, course enrollments, RIFs, evaluations, and interviews.   Sometimes these conversations are positive ones, though they often tend to sway toward the negative end of the spectrum.  They are factors that take us away from the reason we're really here.

That's why we have to stay committed to one's the reason we chose this profession, and it's really the reason we're all here today:

Do what's best for the kids.

Ripken's quote at the top of the page isn't entirely accurate for us, as educators.  We can't completely "erase the games before".  However, we can certainly make every attempt to "try to focus on the game at hand".  

Every day brings a new challenge.  That's what's great about what we do.  We are interacting with dozens, and sometimes even hundreds, of young people on a daily basis.  They come to us with their own fears, dreams, and pressures.  While we may not feel like January 27, or February 12, or April 9 will be a monumental day in one of our students' lives, it just might turn out to be that way.  

And you or I as educators may be the very reason why any given day may be one of the most important to any given student.

A few years back, around this time of year, I was having a "middle innings" type of day.  I think it was a Tuesday (Tuesdays are like the vanilla ice cream of days), probably sometime in late January.  There was some snow on the ground.  The temperature was hovering around 20 degrees.  When I walked into school that day, it was dark, and it was going to be dark when I left again later that evening.  I had recently been turned down for a job I had applied for, and about the only thing I was looking forward to was "getting through" the day and getting home to my family.  And it was only 10:00 in the morning.

Just like every other day in the dean's office, I had a fairly steady stream of students coming in and out.  Their transgressions were nothing out of the ordinary, and the conversations that were taking place were standard-issue.  The day had a "hamster on a wheel" feel to it.  It was in the midst of one of these "usual" conversations that I happened to notice something slightly unusual.  Upon giving a student a rather benign penalty, just a tad more than a slap on the wrist, I noticed him begin to tear up.  I started digging a little more, and the tears turned into extreme emotional anguish.

When I finished dealing with this student much later that day, I had come to find that he had experienced an unthinkable amount of tragedy in a week's time, losing two separate family members suddenly.  His entire life's outlook had completely been altered, his immediate and long-term goals sidetracked, and his life turned upside down.

For this student, on this day, that conversation may have been a safety net that saved him from even greater disaster.

The moral of the story is that, in the end, we have incredibly important jobs.  We impact dozens, or even hundreds of lives on a daily basis---there's just no way to predict when that impact will happen.  We are entrusted with the most valuable gift of all, and it cannot be taken lightly.

It's important for all of us, no matter our role on this "team", to stay committed to that one paramount goal every day:

Do what's best for the kids.

No comments:

Post a Comment