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Writing Teachers Can't Jump: Schooled by a Student-Staff Basketball Game

Last Friday, I played in a student-verses-staff game of hoops against the girls' basketball team during our middle school pep rally. It was five-on-five for five minutes—but only half court. The rest of the 5th through 8th graders were observing from their spots on the floor on the other half of the court.

I had trash talked enough, now it was time to show the kids how to play the game. After all, I had played my last two years of high school and my first year of college. I was good back then.

I drove the ball in hard from the free throw line for a dramatic, Jordanesque lay-up that rolled off my fingertips and ... almost ... very nearly dropped. By the time the final buzzer sounded, I had shot the ball three times, missed three times, fell three times, and passed the ball six or seven times (it was intercepted once). I did catch one glorious rebound!

Despite my dismal performance, my team beat the girls 4 to 7. But I heard, "Nice fall, Ms. Rhames" from snickering kids for the rest of the day.

What's a little public humiliation and a sore back all weekend compared to the exhilaration of seeing middle school students and their teachers bonding over a shamelessly competitive ball game? Even my female principal, who's about one inch shy of five feet, dared to play ball against the boys' basketball team—and some of whom are six feet tall. Now that was hilarious!

There was no doubt that everybody in the small gymnasium enjoyed the show.

Last month I wrote the piece "The Power of Poetry Slams: A Kid, a Mic, and His Words," which argued that students need authentic opportunities to display their talents before the larger school audience. I'm not talking about the typical school assembly where every class gets to go on stage to sing a song or recite a speech in honor of a particular holiday. Those events are okay, but they are not nearly as powerful as poetry slams, athletic games, and talent shows. There's something special about allowing kids to choose to do what they do best in front of a crowd that is just as excited to watch them do it.

Every kid's name won't be posted on the honor roll list. And every kid won't be admired for his stellar personality. Some are just good at being funny. Some are awesome singers, dancers, or instrumentalists. In fact, some students won't want to perform at all. They would rather design the show's stage banner, video record the event, or serve as an usher who passes out the programs. When did having good old fashioned fun and a measure of choice get pulled from the state learning standards? Oh, I forgot—fun and choice were never in there!

Once we figure out how to engage students on a human level and earn their trust, we are over half way there when it comes to making them academically successful.

The student vs. staff basketball games we played allowed the students to see their teachers in a new light—as people, not just as educators. Unfortunately, I'm now known as the person who can't jump, shoot, or stay up on her feet in a game.

But that's okay. Just wait. Let them think I'm a scrub. Next month we are having a rematch. Double the minutes. FULL COURT. I've already started running the floor and practicing my jump shot. Booyah!

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