“On the field!” It’s been twenty-five years, and I can still hear the growling voice of Coach Burkhead yelling at my teammates and me. “Off the field!” It was supposed to be a normal baseball practice with my Police Boys Club #8 team in Northwest DC. But Coach Burkhead spotted one of my teammates walking off the field in between innings of our previous game. Now, we all were paying for it. “On the field!” For the rest of the practice, Coach Burkhead had us sprint from the bench to our positions on the field, and then back again. Dozens — and dozens — and dozens of times. “Welcome to the real world, gentlemen,” he said at the end of practice. “You will hustle to your position every time.” Today, such behavior from a coach might prompt threats of a lawsuit from outraged parents. Back in the mid-1980s it was what you came to expect from Coach Burkhead. He was an institution within Police Boys Club #8. A gruff, thickly-built cop, he intimidated younger kids who had yet to have him as a coach and inspired devotion among older players who had survived a year or two on his team.
I was educated in England and best remember my High School English teacher, a woman who inspired through enthusiasm. She was in love with language and literature, and her unfailing, bouncing enthusiasm and permanent grin enthused us all.There were no non-participants in that class – the boys at the back of the class sat up, listened, read the texts, and contributed their ideas. Every class was a lively discussion. No ideas were ‘wrong’, but we were challenged (by both our peers and our teacher), and we did need to be able to explain and justify them. We could challenge our teacher too; we could question what she was saying, and decide for ourselves what we believed. One idea sparked more, and more… everything was interesting…we wanted to learn, we wanted to discuss, we wanted to write papers! Our exam results were outstanding, but what really mattered was that we had learned to think, analyse, and discuss, and we had developed a love of learning that would last a lifetime. The key to learning therefore is enthusiasm combined with high expectations. I firmly believe that when high expectations are placed upon children, they rise to meet them. Years later I moved
I grew up going to my mother’s afterschool tutoring program in a church basement on the South Side of Chicago. It is the best learning community I’ve ever been a part of and the best learning experience I’ve ever had. That is high praise because I have been lucky enough to attend extraordinary schools and to have great professional development and learning experiences as an adult. My mother created a unique culture. Everyone was challenged to do their best, every single day. It was the ultimate in high expectations, both for individuals and the group as a whole. There were no short cuts or excuses. We did lots of things in teams and groups. These collaborations created positive peer pressure where we encouraged one another. Folks who were strong in one thing were helping ones who were weak in something else. We had a sense of camaraderie. We were all in it together. Everybody was both teaching and learning. Ten-year-olds taught five-year-olds, and fifteen-year-olds taught ten-year-olds. At every stage, you were expected to continue to learn and improve, but you also were expected to help others. The older students took great ownership for how the younger children were doing. At
I could never narrow down the path of learning which has led me to this point in life. I can’t pin it all on one defining epiphany that woke me up and made me pay attention. I can tell about all the small things which have added to my experience. These things may be the “…so you can get into a good college.” statements that I heard throughout my life, the look that my Dad always gives me that says he knew I could do it, or the many privileges I have had in my education. Without these three things I could never have come this far, could never be graduating in May with a wonderful GPA or have the opportunity to stand in front of 129 students as their student teacher this January. My Mother’s “…so you can get into a good college.” statements left little doubt in my mind about what happens after highschool. I was somewhat amazed to find out later on that there were other children who grew up knowing the “…college isn’t for everybody.” statement instead. Where would I be today if I had known such an option existed? Do our children fail because they