we came for the sports

The latest edition of the TJHSST alumni newsletter says “The students still come for the sports! 42% of the TJ football team senior class were named 2015 National Merit semi-finalists.”

I still have this bumper sticker on my car. I remember starting homework after long track or cross-country practices. I remember poring over Cliffs Notes, slogging through math problems, and drawing diagrams of mitosis and meiosis late into the night. I remember trying not to fall asleep in class the next day. I also remember that my grades were the highest they ever were at during those sports seasons.

The stat about the TJ football players makes it seem like students should “have it all”–“all” meaning mastery of a varsity sport and AP classes. I worry how JQUS staff, students, and alumni interpret this kind of “ideal” student. At our staff retreat this summer, several alumni came to speak to us about their experiences post-JQUS and what we could do as teachers to make it better for current students. Most of the panel stated that we should give more work (based on their experiences dealing with a heavier college workload).

I wish they’d said “help students learn how to manage their time so that they learn how to deal with more work.” I could add 50 problems to each homework set I assign and then start grading homework again, but I’d bet that I wouldn’t see much, if any, improvement in student learning. Though I am glad that many of my students participated in football, cross-country, volleyball, and soccer during the fall, I worry for those who don’t have the traits of self-management and perseverance. I don’t advocate that all students should quit sports in favor of math, or that they should join as many after-school programs as possibility to market themselves more desirably in the eyes of college admissions officers. Some of my best students were on the volleyball team that made it to the state tournament, but some students who needed the most help in math were also on sports teams.

The culture of “go to tutoring to improve your grades” is getting better in our school. Several of our students are attending a local tutoring program run by the Boston Scholar Athletes program, and the program wants to offer its services to non-athletes as well. We also have tutors from local colleges coming every day after school to help students if needed. We can mandate that they attend these sessions now, but how will they fare in college, when these external supports aren’t in place? How will they fare post-college, when you have to find your own supports to learn new skills that aren’t mandated by school?

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