Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Reflection on NJ (Michael)

When I first found out that the red shirts were going to go to New Jersey to work with the Boys Club of New York  I was extremely excited. Firstly, the trip helped the redshirts form closer bonds and secondly, it was a great distraction from the growing responsibility in the classroom. I thought that it would be a piece of cake after having participated in the program Project Coach hosted at Dunbar Community Center in Springfield with the camp councilors of the YMCA. I felt that because I have experience in the inner city, both as a student and an educator, that I had an advantage with working with the students from New York. I was comfortable--- I  thought it would be refreshing to work with the caliber of students I would be working with throughout the school year. Needless to say, I was pretty confident that the experience would simple, enjoyable and educational. What I found was that the experience was everything but simple. It was enjoyable at times but frustrating at other times. I also found out that it was definitely educational.

What I learned is that teaching/coaching is never predictable. One set of experiences cannot determine the outcome of another set of experiences. I also learned not to overestimate my skill set as an instructor or educator. There is always room to grow. The trip in New Jersey forced me to think critically about the decisions I am making to move toward education and the decision to work with younger people. When we arrived in New Jersey we were giving our red shirts, and it hit me that it was finally official. I was a member of Project Coach and things were about to get real. The boys from the Boys Club came into the auditorium soon are we arrived and greeted each of us with handshakes and their names. I was impressed with their level of communication and orderliness. I sat down at a table with four young men and their camp counselor. I noticed right away that half of the young people at the table were either yawning or on their verge of placing their heads on the table. The other half were very talkative, but about things that had nothing to do with the Program or its objectives. They seemed to be more concerned with money, girls and making jokes about the clothes some of the other boys were wearing. Immediately I knew that I would have to do something to captivate the attention and respect of the young men. This would be my challenge from that Saturday until Monday.

The guys seemed like they were very intelligent; they simply just did not want to be present at the training. They felt as if they already knew much of what we were discussing and I was disappointed to see that they were not enthusiastic about the material. I kept asking myself what I could do to change the demeanor of the kids. I tried to get them standing and acting out a few of the skits that were in one activity, but I soon realized that they did not feel comfortable acing "silly" or "uncool" in front of their friends. I tried to demonstrate that it was okay to be silly, but they still had a hard time grasping the concept. When we worked in the larger groups I was able to interact with some of the other students who seemed to have a better time at the training, and I understood that the challenge was not a global issue-- it was one that I had been dealt and needed to overcome.

By the end of Saturday it was clear that 3 of the 4 young men in my group did not want to be there. I had to come to grips with this conclusion and try to make the best of the situation. I found out that all of the guys in my group were good athletes, so when it was time to demonstrate coaching on the court, they showed off their ability. I complimented them on their skills, and tried to get them to invoke more of a coach's attitude. In some instances, I was successful. There was a time when Justin (who seemed to be the ring leader) actually took the initiative to lead the group through a coaching exercise. It was surprising and rewarding to see him step up to the plate. Once I was able to get Marquis to realize that it was okay to be silly, he began to demonstrate some coaching ability as well. Unfortunately, only one of the four were able to return on Monday. Marquis was the last one standing. When the younger kids arrived he realized the importance of paying attention during the training. He relied on me for much of the day, but then I informed him that he would have to do it alone the following day. He stepped up to the plate and learned how to coach.

I know that overall, the experience taught me not to make assumptions. I learned not to allow a few difficult students to ruin it for the rest of the group. I learned that educating is sometimes an extremely frustrating process, but the results can be phenomenal.

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