Sunday, November 11, 2007

Debate: more than what we use to catch de fish

I was very happy during my couple of years of not-coaching. I'd sleep in late on Saturdays, wake up, and say to my wife: "Hey, guess where we're not this weekend? Auburn High!" or something similar.

But when I made the move to the new school, I agreed to coach again. There wasn't a real team...my predecessor took the kids to one meet per year and took the entire stipend for that one weekend of work. I'm a big fan of forensics, and I wanted to be sure kids at the new place had an opportunity. I feel like academics isn't valued as much as it could be in this community or in its homes. I also feel like kids' relationships with teachers are too-often adversarial. So I wanted to create a place where academically-oriented kids could be nerds and do extra work without being weird. Also, after so much conflict with kids all day, I wanted to create a place where I could have better relationships with kids. Coach-student relationships are always more impactful than teacher-student relationships. When I look back over my 10 years teaching and think of students who are still in touch with me, almost all were on the team...only a few were just in the classroom. Add onto that the fact that the debate circuit and schedules in SW Washington are much saner than in Seattle (we're out by 8:30 on Friday, out by 7:00 on Saturday), and that I don't have to drive 90 minutes to find a competition (it's more like 15), well, we have a much more pleasant experience. Finally, I've hired my wife on as assistant coach, so rather than time away from her, Debate is a cool thing we do together.

I'm impressed with how much I'm enjoying building a new team.

At the Old Place, I inherited an active program. Here, there was basically nobody around. I convinced four kids to join the team. They didn't know what debate was. They only joined because they trusted -me-. Three of them were my English students; one brought along a friend. So I feel a bond with these kids, because they jumped into the unknown only because they trusted my word.

It's paying off. I had a kid take 3rd place in LD Debate yesterday, and a first-place speaker award. A second kid took 4th out of 34 in Student Congress.

We're still not at a level I want to be at...the competition in our corner of the state isn't a strong as it is up around the Sound, and my kids are still a little bit deer-in-the-headlights. But, since this team is entirely my own, I feel a LOT more pride of ownership than I did at the old place. Don't get me wrong...these trophies belong to my students and not to me. They did the heavy lifting. But I built this from the ground up. I like that feeling. It's new.

I get sentimental on the way home, and think of my great past competitors, and the little moments I remember about them. Rachel standing up for me the first year. Kim's humor and talent. Michael's hilarious nickname. Nick's love of Aristotle. Katie nearly breaking me, but learning so goddamned much through competition. Matt taking weeks to push his way through one horribly spiteful judge comment. Katelyn taking full down time just to breathe deeply and decide how to respond to a sobbing, overmatched opponent. Lindsey's baseball cutting. Krystyna having a nervous asthma attack when she gave her first speech, but insisting that she needed to get over that fear...and eventually making it to State. Dianna going to Nationals...her first time away from her parents. Sarah's tears at NOT making Nationals the one year she fell short. Drew's social growth. And several others...not all superstars, but all important to me.

I'm in touch with a couple of these kids, and have lost touch with most of the others, but on debate weekends, I think of all of them. The older ones have jobs now; an elementary school teacher, a Newsweek journalist, an assistant to a Congressman.

And when I'm driving the van and my students are stoked about their success and eagerly asking my wife and I what they can do to get even better, and could we make it to state, and what's State like, and what other events can we try...well, I wonder which of these kids will fire off an email to me from their first job after college, which will join the little honor roll procession in my mind.

And it feels good.

It felt good at the old place, but at the new place, I somehow feel more responsible for it. Maybe that's arrogant, but it's real to me. I like that feeling.

3 comments:

Shannin said...

I was on the Speech & Debate team all 4 years of high school. Speech was more my forte but I loved LD Debate as well. Heck, it was because of my Original Oratory speech on teen suicide that I got to appear on Good Morning America...

tommyspoon said...

I'm glad to see that you are making lemons out of lemonade! Keep it up!

Paula Reed said...

Glad you're back to it! (Sharing in your pride, just a touch.)