Friday, September 28, 2007

Sibling Assignment #39: Humiliation and Motivation

Silver Valley Girl gave this week's assignment. She asked us to write about something that happened before we went to college that contributed to being the teachers we are today. Silver Valley Girl's assignment is here and you'll find InlandEmpireGirl's here.

I'm not sure why I even played basketball my senior year at Kellogg High School. Much of the pleasure I'd once felt playing competitive basketball had pretty much dried up. I enjoyed basketball, but my skills were diminishing instead of improving, my heart was no longer in it, and I didn't have that much to contribute to our team.

I often have dreams, even these thirty-five years later, of being back in high school and declining to turn out for basketball, of pursuing other interests and enjoying my teammates as a fan.

But, at the time, I joined the team out of habit. I had fun being around my teammates and becoming a clown on the team, making the guys laugh, but I didn't enjoy practice or even the games all that much.

My senior season hits it nadir when we hosted the Wallace Miners, our cross county rivals, at home. We had beaten Lewiston and Clarkston at home the weekend before and those wins catapulted the Kellogg Wildcats to the sixth ranked team in the state.

John Hinkemeyer, one of our steadiest and toughest inside players, was nursing a sore ankle coming into the Wallace game. Our coach, Bob Emheiser, decided to rest him, at least to start the game, and made me a starter. Furthermore, he appointed me as captain for the game.

I was in over my head. I hadn't started a game all season. I really hadn't even played all that much. I was excited, but in a nervy way: too much adrenaline.

After Wallace captain John Boffencamp and I met at the center circle for a pre-game briefing with the referees and after the National Anthem, we broke from our huddle for the game's opening tip.

We won the tip, Bruce Larsen eyed me streaking ahead of any Wallace Miners, hit me in stride with a perfect pass, I drove unguarded to the basket, and my lay-in spun out. It was the adrenaline. In my mind, I laid the ball softly against the backboard, but my body was pumped and my shot was too forceful.

So began a woeful night for the Wildcats. I missed couple of jump shots, badly, got benched, and the Wallace Miners jumped out to a big lead that they never relinquished.

Before the game, we'd been told to clear out our lockers. The locker room was going to be disinfected because a flu virus was spreading.

Distraught and embarrassed by my performance, blaming myself for the loss because I missed that opening lay-in, I left my pre-game warm-up jersey behind.

I didn't think much of it, until the next night. Our opponent was St. Maries and when I arrived for our pre-game meeting, Coach asked me where my warm-up was.

"I forgot it last night."

"I know. You're suspended."

I, and four of my teammates, were suspended that night. Others left their warm-ups. Harold Littleton was suspended for eating a hamburger too close to game time.

Coach was taking out his anger for our loss to Wallace on the players he suspended.

"Oh! And don't think you're going home. I want you on the bench in your street clothes."

Our "street clothes" were a purple shirt and a gold tie. Coach decided not only to suspend, but to humiliate us.

I've never forgotten that night. I deeply regret not having had the guts to walk off the team. I may as well have. I was a cipher for the rest of the season, with little commitment to anything but subverting the coach as a smart ass and redoubling my efforts to do stuff to make my teammates laugh.

This incident has had a deep and lasting impact on my work as a teacher. One of my principal tenets as a teacher is to do all I can never to embarrass a student and never to humiliate one.

I've not always lived up to this. I've had my bad moments. But, especially as I get older and more seasoned as a teacher, I keep in the front of my mind, all the time, that no one is motivated my humiliation. If a student has a problem, that problem will never be solved and will only be exacerbated if I humiliate her or him.

Again, I've had my bad moments as a teacher. I've not always been true to this principal. But, I my work is governed by the principal that most important source of motivation for a student is to be treated humanely.

I'm keenly aware of students who are, in a college English class, similar to how I was a basketball player that senior year. Many students have lost their confidence. Many are disgruntled and disillusioned. Some have suffered humiliation from teachers and are wary, even distrustful.

I've learned that the only way to effectively counter this malaise, when I encounter it, is to be humane.

I learned this most vividly by Coach Emheiser's petulant suspension of me for the pettiest of reasons.

Sometimes I have learned what is right by having been wronged and swearing never to wrong another person in the same way.

The humiliation I felt that Saturday night during the game against St. Maries is the strongest example of this kind of learning.

I'm not grateful for having learned the importance of humaneness in this way. It still angers me. But, it was one of the most unforgettable contributions anyone made to my development as a person that led to me being the almost always humane teacher I am today.


Hope said...

To see the right and wrong of something and learn from it. So many people are blind to others mistakes and then make them themselves.

Amber said...

Hi there. Thank you for your hello. I always am happy to know you read. One man among women, I think! lol

"Sometimes I have learned what is right by having been wronged and swearing never to wrong another person in the same way."---

This is so true. I can think of a couple times that I still wonder what an adult was thinking... And then after having worked in schools, as a counselor, I realize that sometimes people become teachers, who should never really work with children.


Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

Powerful post.

Christy Woolum said...

As often mentioned before, it is amazing what memories we hold. I never remember anybody getting benched!