Catharsis

I, like most Baltimore City teachers, especially ones from our corps, have been hanging on for dear life these past couple weeks, holding out for Thanksgiving break, as if it were going to be my salvation. I’m pretty much living on the edge right now, and the fact that it’s not just me, but most everybody, is a sad commentary on the state of this profession. For me, I’m not totally sure what’s gone wrong, but I feel as though much of what I’m trying to improve has really skidded backwards lately.

This gloom was the backdrop for our first Student vs. Staff basketball game.

The students have been fired up about it for weeks. I’ve had kids I don’t even teach run up to me in the halls to ask if I was playing, if I was any good, and what position I play. And the basketball team itself has been out for blood. Many of our basketball players are also our most challenging students, and they were definitely looking to embarrass us on the court. One player has been telling me every day for the past week about how they were going to hang 100 points on us.

I stayed coy about bragging back. Although I knew I could hold my own, up until the day before the game, I had no idea who we’d even be able to get to play for the staff side. It was my duty to put the team together, but that, like many far more important things, fell to the wayside until the last minute. And even if I had known who we’d be able to field, we’d still be a disorganized, unconditioned team playing against a team that’s been practicing together most of the days of the week for the better part of 2 months.

We took the court in front of a raucous crowd of students from our three grades. The FAST cheerleaders showed off their routines on one side of the gym, while the teachers jumped and cheered under the other hoop. The basketball team threw everything they had at us the whole first half, but we hung in there. We didn’t make a lot of baskets at first and I came out cold. I had just eaten lunch and it wasn’t sitting well. But we stuck to the game plan and things started to gel as we found the holes in their defense. It’s not an advantage we’ll have for long, as our upper grades start filling in, but that day, we had a size and strength advantage, which let us win the battle for rebounds. After going down by as much as 8, we went on a run before half time and closed the gap a bit.

Coach Burley sat their whole starting side at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, and we took full advantage. We sat our Principal, who was our most effective player, but my game finally settled in, and we shut them down on defense, while running up the points. I had spent an hour after school working on my mid-range jump shot, and without their best defenders on the court, I buried several. By the end of the 3rd quarter, the staff were up by 3.

Quarter 4 was intense. Coach put all their starters back on the court. They came out flat though, making poor decisions and losing discipline on defense. The game stayed close until the end though, partly due to the machinations of Coach Burley, who was also the ref, haha. We couldn’t get a call, but he managed not to see one of their players travel two plays in a row, and it seemed like every time they shot the ball a foul was called. They had a chance to win when, down by 1, their best player was sent to the line but missed both foul shots. We hung on to the lead for the remaining minute, and time was called.

It was sooo sweet. One of their players mixed up the numbers on the scoreboard, as if that would change the outcome, but we fixed it and took our victory picture. It was probably unsportsmanlike of us, but we spent a solid 5 minutes reveling instead of lining up to shake hands. I tried to organize a line, but the basketball team had already mostly started filing back to the locker room to get chewed out by Coach Burley. He must have read them the riot act, because most of them were completely dejected as they left the school.

It was interesting to see how conflicted the student body was. Some of our students cheered the whole time for us and came up to shake our hands before and after the game. Some of them were all for a faculty embarrassment, and had already thought up excuses seconds after the final buzzer. But most were there, just enjoy the show, cheering for whatever player did something flashy.

I hope the game was symbolic. The students are always talking about how they “run this school”, which isn’t far from the truth. We teachers are, after all, only human. But just like in the game, we fight absolutely relentlessly, undermanned and underequipped, to get by on the slimmest of margins. On the other hand, unlike the game, the real life battle continues on Monday.

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