A Basketball Field Trip: The Good, the Great, and the Ugly

“Here’s my permission slip Ms!” D called as he jogged up to me and the group of nine 8th grade boys standing next to me.

Just in time! We were all headed to the Harvard men’s basketball game against Cornell and we were about to miss the bus.

“Alright let’s go, folks! We have a bus to catch!” I hollered.

The eleven boys from the school’s basketball team plus one girl from the girls basketball team (she had so much fun last week on the girls’ version of this field trip that she asked to come again!) began to mosey towards the bus station from the school about as fast as penguins on land.

Just as we walked up, the bus pulled away. Luckily the next one wasn’t too long a wait because it was snowing and freezing cold. Many kids weren’t wearing gloves or hats and nearly all had on tennis shoes. At that age it can be hard to tell if a kid is under-dressed because she doesn’t have boots or if it is because she’s too cool for boots in general or if she’s too cool for boots because mom can’t afford them.

An hour later we were sitting court-side ready to cheer on the home team. Some of the boys were the most animated I’ve ever seen them be.

“Number 13! 13! He’s the best, man!”

“Naw you frontin – check out number 1! He’s got mooooves!”

Meanwhile Ms. S-L and I quietly agreed that number 4 looked excellent in his crimson jersey. (I know, I know, I’m a traitor to my alma mater.) This was my first college basketball game and, I must admit, it was really fun! With the exception of the painful dance team, whom I tried to ignore (particularly since there’s nothing quite like the awkwardness of sitting next to a thirteen-year-old boy as 30 college co-eds shake their butts), I enjoyed getting into the game with the students.

After Harvard won, four members of the team came out to talk to the students.

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{Sorry no pics of the students allowed so here are the Harvard players while they were talking to us.}

The kids mostly wanted to know who their favorite NBA players were and what position they played. I asked what they were going to do after graduation (all aspiring i-bankers). The teacher who organized the trip asked them what they did in high school to prepare to be college-level student-athletes and the players had some good answers.

“Find people who can help you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

“Learn how to manage your time — you have a lot to balance.”

“Do what you love. For example, I also played trombone in high school.”

I’m hoping that our students were listening and as we filed out of the building I was feeling that glow of a successful teaching moment.

Back on the bus, the kids were clearly tired of sitting and were fooling around a bit. They went on about how one kid pronounces “pizza.” They decided to rank the players on the Harvard team. And K decided to rip up the program into little pieces. All normal 8th grade behavior.

But just before we got to our stop the shredded program ended up on the ground.

“Make sure that gets picked up when we get off the bus,” I stated calmly.

The bus stopped, we all got up, and the paper stayed on the floor.

“Guys, pick it up please. It shouldn’t be on the floor,” my tone rising a bit, to no effect.

Everyone was off the bus except me and I motioned to the driver to wait for a second.

“K!” I yelled. “K! Come over here and pick this up. This is not acceptable!” I yelled. He boarded the bus but refused to pick up the pieces of paper. We were at a standstill and holding up the bus.

“You’ve got to pick this up,” I growled.

“No I don’t! What you mean? That was M’s mess anyway. He threw it on the floor and I am NOT picking it up,” K responded.

“This is unbelievable!” I yelled, brow furrowed and finger jabbing in the direction of the paper still on the floor. “We took you all this way, got you free tickets, let you talk to the players and this is what happens?! You are disrespecting the us and your school and not representing school values! Go home!”

I was on a roll.

“So infuriating,” I stated to Ms. S-L as the students mostly scattered.

But I was on a roll of totally inappropriate yelling. Here I was disobeying all the rules of good-teacherdom. Don’t embarrass a kid. Don’t create a detente where you have no plan if a kid refuses. Give kids two mutually beneficial options. Keep your emotions in check. Be the adult.

As the last kid got picked up by his mom, I apologized to the teacher who’d organized the trip — I acknowledged that I hadn’t handled the situation well. He agreed that the student’s behavior was frustrating and disappointing but I couldn’t help feeling like he was equally disappointed in the way I’d handled it. I left feeling incompetent and trying not to feel like the ending ruined the trip.

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