By Sam Rubenstein
In High School teaching, which as we’ve established, is like coaching, it’s supposed to be all about the players. My job is to put them in a position where they can succeed. With the NCAA tourney coming to a close Monday night, on the same day that my 9th graders will perform scenes from The Odyssey for a big final project, I am sweating a whole war machine’s worth of bullets.
I drew up “gameplans”, meaning activities and lessons to get them ready, and some of them are getting it, but I’m nervous about the group. This is why coaches look like they’ve been sleeping under a train car full of hobos. You should see the bags under my eyes these days. John Chaney is a pretty boy compared to me. But the important question to ask is “Mr. Rubenstein, what type of coach are you?” Why, I’m glad you asked.
There are the Bobby Knight types who are just rude, terrible people, but they know what’s best for your child. Okay, maybe they’re not bad people, neither is Bobby. They sure do yell a lot and fly off the handle for the littest things though. I’m too new to this to be a Calhoun type, although I would love to be able to say things like “Yeah there’s a lot of rules, maybe they got broken. Whaddyagonnado?” The kids have mastered that philosophy. Jim Calhoun would fit right in with the 9th and 10th graders.
There are other teachers at my school who are the fast talking hotshot coaches, in the Pitino-Calipari mold, who work their corrupt magic somehow. I am jealous of them. Sure they both fell short in the tourney, but that’s what one-and-done elimination is. In my world now it’s called high stakes testing. Cruel, unfair, stressful, the way of the world. More importantly, they gettin’ monnnnneeeeee!!!
I have a lot of respect for Tom Izzo, but I’ve seen his pre-game speeches on TV, and that’s just not my style. I wish. Roy Williams is too folksy daggumit, Coach K has too many motivational slogans, Boeheim is too grumpy. I take more of an NBA coach approach to teaching, which is to be a player’s coach.
The key to everything is knowing your students, like knowing your players. I have the LeBron of students in my freshman English class. She’s so smart, has such a good attitude, that I am lucky to able to work with her. I give her every chance to get away with stuff if she wants to, not that she would. She doesn’t need coaching, she just needs to be given a stage to dominate and be reminded not to get too cocky. I also have a Chris Paul in the room, just like LeBron but shorter and usually dressed in flourescent colors. Which one is the best? It’s a debate, although LeBron can do more and has achieved more so far. I thank the education Gods for placing the two of them in my classroom.
There are quieter, humble types of superstars, like the Tim Duncan of my class, a quiet Brazilian girl who claims she has trouble with some of the language, but then she will raise her hand and blow me away with thoughts much deeper than my own. Tim Duncan is complemented by Amar’e, a student who radiates brilliance, but let’s just say she has some “lapses.”
I have closet geniuses who could be the superstars if they so chose, but they just are not built that way. Rasheed Wallaces. Sheed did his best work when he was coached by Rick Adelman and Larry Brown, and if I fall somewhere in the middle between those two, that would be great, because I have no idea how to reach the Rasheeds. Just let them be? Hahahahahahahaha! Oh man… the sheer destruction that would ensue…
Is there a Stephen Jackson/Ron Artest/token violent and insane student in my class? Indeed. He also happens to be a part of the closet genius crew. We went on a field trip to the museum to do science experiments on Friday, learning about DNA in caviar. He raised his hand and asked “Can you buy caviar with foodstamps?” He also told me he missed class because he got into a fight with a cop after he called the cop a “B— a$$ n—-” and the cop had the nerve to grab him!
You’ll be pleased to know there is a Steph 2008-09 in the class. He was away from the school on suspension for 7 weeks and things were going smoothly. Now he’s back, and he’s dragging people down with him. But this is not the NBA where you can throw $20 million at a problem to make it go away. Imagine if D’Antoni was forced to keep Steph involved the whole time. Mikey D, I envy you.
There is a group of kids in the “Can’t stay out of trouble” mode, the ones who make the news for all the wrong reasons. Let’s not even go there, it’s too depressing. Liars!
Others I have to encourage. You know how coaches never say “I can’t believe that scrub dared to take the shot.” I never allow them to lose confidence, and I keep including them, staying as balanced as possible. It’s working out pretty well.
Some are no-shows, DNPs if you will. Yeah, they won’t be in the “NBA” much longer if they keep this up.
My main dude is the quiet funny kid in the back. He’s lazy, he makes funny faces, he makes me laugh. He’s 15 years old and he said to me “Hey man, you’re harshing my mellow.” I guess you could say he’s a class clown, but he’s also really quiet. He’s one of those quirky cult figures that NBA diehards love so much.
There is a Kobe in the class. Oh boy… this is a 14 year old boy with a deep voice, awkwardly tall for his age, and he is absolutely brilliant. I wrote a question on a test “How does Odysseus change over the course of his journey?” and he wrote “Odysseus has acquired a sense of ruthlessness from his desperation.” I’m telling you, this kid is a genius. I am also telling you that I have never had to beg and plead and scream and whine and beg and plead and scream and whine and threaten and praise and want to strangle a person more in my life.
Add it all up, and you’ve got a “team” that finally made it to the big dance. As their coach, I put them in position to do their job on Monday. There’s nothing else I can do for them, other than to be overcome with nervous energy.
AND SO IN CONCLUSION… “Coaching” is a lot more than stalking kids with text messages, accepting bribes from boosters, and writing frantically on dry erase boards. Although as you can see in the picture above, my dry erase game is getting tighter. Big games for Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Mr. Rubenstein tomorrow. NERVOUS!!!