Happiness > Winning

I’m always a little reluctant to talk about my observations and experiences here in China because I know just how trollish certain organizations of people can be when determined to undermine bad news or information that runs counter to their own narrative. I’ve just gotten used to saving it for my journal or internalizing it all together. Such is life here in China.

But I suppose I want to talk about my experience coaching high school basketball and how difficult it can be teaching Chinese high school kids to play together as a team. When I look at how most of these kids were raised, as an only child, often coddled by their grandparents, often without a strong father-figure or male role model, it’s no surprise when I see them get upset about missing a shot, making bad pass, or just turning the ball over because they lack some of the fundamental skills to execute basketball moves they’ve seen NBA players perform. Each of these boys wants to be the scorer, the playmaker, the hero on offense but doesn’t want or know how to work as part of a team. To a man and poor spelling aside, I think each of them believes there is an “I” in “team”.

Most of them struggle with the idea that they are not meant to be the superstar. They resist the idea that the play the coach wants them to run is a more effective, more consistent way to score than their own ideal of 1-on-5. Their preferred way invariably results in one of them launching a contested 19-foot prayer toward the hoop while their teammates stand around watching, frustrated that they aren’t the one with the chance at stardom.

A few of my players understand they need to work hard to improve their skills, and they stay after practice to work on something. But the majority of my team seem to believe they will only improve their game through the frustratingly inane 1-on-5 play I laugh at, then shout at them for. One of the best parts of coaching for me has been taking individual kids aside off the court and explaining to them their importance lies not in scoring points but in some other aspect of the game that they excel at.

This one boy who calls himself “Batman” looked a little depressed last Thursday night during our open-gym time because his team wasn’t getting him the ball so he could shoot more. He was so distraught that he didn’t want to play anymore that night. The next morning before first-period, I went to his classroom and had a short conversation with him in the hallway. I reminded him of the compliments I always give about his defense. He has become a hyperactive monster at the small forward position, disrupting opponents’ passing lanes, harassing and frustrating ball-handlers, grabbing rebounds, even blocking shots as he’s helping out. I told him any points he scores for our team are a bonus and that he should focus on his defensive play because that’s what the team needs most and what he does better than anyone else on the team.

I suppose our team won’t win any games against other schools this fall, but I really couldn’t care less about that. My philosophy about basketball has evolved a lot since I began playing here in China. No longer do I keep score when I’m playing, and I don’t argue calls. Instead, I focus my mind on one thing while I’m playing, and that’s whether or not I’m happy. If I’m not happy, I remind myself how lucky I am to be fit enough to play basketball nearly every weekday, how lucky I am that I work at a school where I have access to a gymnasium to play in year-round. When I consider how lucky I am and how good having basketball in my life feels, I can’t help but be happy. For me, basketball has become all about shared experiences and relationships I have with those I play with and coach. Winning is also nice, but I won’t allow not winning to affect my happiness.

 

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No Favorites

As a teacher, you’re not supposed to have favorite students, or at least you’re not supposed to acknowledge that you do. I’m quite good at following this rule. That is until I heard the news this week that one of my favorite students, a tall, skinny, socially awkward boy who goes by “Mike” wouldn’t be returning to our school this semester.

I don’t mind stating that I find intelligent, self-aware students far more interesting than those uncurious students who struggle to speak their minds, or perhaps don’t even know their own minds. Mike is one of those kids. He was always asking my favorite question, “Why?”

Mike’s most endearing quality was his physique. He was tall, 6’4″, and built like a corn stalk. To call him thin would be a gross misuse of the word. But despite looking as though a stiff breeze could uproot and bounce him down the sidewalk, Mike often made the attempt to play basketball. He was actually beginning to make significant progress at overcoming his extreme awkwardness. So it’s super unfortunate that he’s not returning to our school this semester. He’ll definitely be missed by all of his teachers.

First Day Back at School

It’s Tuesday, August 28th, my first official day back at work for fall semester 2018 at the little international high school where I teach and supervise foreign teachers. Unfortunately the start of a new semester means my foreign teachers are already whining and complaining that they don’t want to teach some of their scheduled classes. One teacher doesn’t want to teach US History. He’d rather teach a subject we are no longer offering. Another teacher doesn’t want to teach so many English classes because she is a science teacher. No one wants to teach those classes, but we need some of our foreign teachers to teach English to the attached domestic school. There’s just no getting around it. Another Foreign teacher didn’t want to teach the English classes or electives, so he’s overloaded with science classes. Some people are just going to be unhappy, and that’s the way it goes, especially when two of those complainers are irresponsible people who frequently break the rules and don’t fulfill their duties as teachers, so I really don’t give a shit about their complaints, at least not on day one.

 

LTBP #3

Lunchtime Blog Post Number 3

Over the the weekend I accomplished very little of the numerous creative projects I had tentatively planned on tackling. Instead, I wasted a lot of time watching TV shows and a couple of films that left me feeling just as hollow as before watching them.

My dysfunctional mind, instead of realigning or rescheduling things I intended to do, simply drops them from the list, unstricken, never to trouble me again, that is, until I realize on Sunday night I completely squandered my weekend.

I’m nobody!

In my American Literature class today, we continued discussing various Emily Dickinson poems. One poem in particular should have made a deeper impression upon my class, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”, but they weren’t able to understand and internalize the meaning behind the words. I suppose I can’t really blame them too much as English is their second language, and I don’t suppose too many American students would find the deeper meaning appealing at the same age. I guess no one wants to believe they are the bog (swamp) in a poem’s less-than-flattering metaphor.

What Sleeped Me?

After lunch this afternoon, my school had a small singing competition in the auditorium, and a few of my students took part. I really mean to attend, but as I walked down the hallway I could hear the caterwauling level of talent on exhibit bleeding emanating from TV’s in classrooms as I walked past. At that moment I decided it would take a dozen demanding students or at least one school administrator to drag me up to the auditorium on the sixth floor.

Instead (and quite content with my decision), I sat down at my desk to check out the endless flow of tech news on Feedly, my RSS reader of choice while indulging in the Material Podcast on Pocket Casts. With each blink, I felt my eyelids getting heavier until at last, they failed to open again on their own. Only through an extraordinary exertion of willpower was I able to end the micro-sleep which had dragged my head low to rest my chin upon my left hand.

I don’t know if I should blame the protein-heavy cafeteria lunch I ate, the extreme dearth of enthusiasm I felt about the singing competition, or the extra-wordy podcast for putting me to sleep. What I do know is that I have no regrets about not subjecting myself to the ear-splitting noises being emitted from the 6th-floor auditorium.

Expulsion Solution

In the past month, my school has expelled two students for entirely different infractions. The first student, Davis, was kicked out for bullying.  I was told that he had gathered a group of his friends (from other schools) to intimidate another boy outside the front gate on a Friday afternoon when the boarding students usually head back to their homes. In my opinion, Davis definitely deserved his punishment.

The other boy, Allan, was expelled for smoking both off-campus and in various location on-campus. While I agree that students should definitely not be smoking on the school grounds, I don’t believe he should be punished for what he does outside the prison school walls. The fact that he was caught smoking at school is certainly a serious problem, but I don’t believe the punishment fit the “crime.” Obviously, the boy has an addiction to nicotine, and by expelling him, the school really hasn’t done anything to help him break this addiction. He’s just been cast aside like he’s a flawed clay pot unworthy of being fired in the kiln of education.

Sometimes I think international schools in China are run too much like factories where the administrators view the workers (students) as interchangeable and replaceable. They just don’t seem to grasp the human aspect of teaching and shaping young minds. My school has such low expectations for these kids that teachers let them sleep in class, but try to force these same lazy kids to stay awake during the exams by making their tests harder.

There’s just no logic to international school education in China. If you want to create little robots, follow the Chinese curriculum, but if you want thinkers and creators, take a more westernized, holistic approach and stop throwing away kids just because they’ve begun heading down a wrong path.

A Difference of Opinion

Today was the day we teachers at my international school were supposed to turn in our final exams to the heads of our departments. My exams turned out to be quite long, about 10 pages of mostly multiple choice questions plus a written section at the end.

I got a request from the head of the English department suggesting I change some of the multiple choice questions. Get this, the problem isn’t that my questions are too easy. Oh no. Her complaint was that some students will simply scribble letters into the blanks as quickly as they can, then use the remainder of the exam time to sleep.

Apparently, she and I have a different philosophy when it comes to designing tests. I prefer to test what the students may know. The head of the English department seems to think the purpose of the test is to keep students awake. WTF?! So, I guess I’m going to have an argument tomorrow when I meet with her, and I really don’t think her argument has a leg to stand on because students who can’t read can’t answer any questions regardless of whether they are multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank. I fail to see any difference except that my test at least puts the correct answer in front of them. Her way guarantees that the worst students will not even be able to write something relevant on their answer sheets, and I’ll have to wade through that garbage as though I’m actually measuring their knowledge and not just wandering through a landfill searching for pearls.