Personal Inquiry – Interests and Preferences
Much of our work this semester in grad school has been focused around the idea of inquiry. Observing a student for who they are. One class has been focused on identifying potential behaviors that are limiting the child’s academic success, another is focused on identifying who that child is as is. In essence, once you can identify the child, you can better figure out what you can do as their teacher to support them in the academic environment, if they need your support. I’ve decided to observe Student A described here: Challenging students or challenging environment
Over the past two months I’ve really been fortunate to be able to observe him in almost all of his classroom settings. Part of the observation process is to try to describe your child as is, without assigning values to what the child does. A few of my peers in the program have found that relatively difficult, which to me speaks to a perhaps a larger issue with teachers being unable to see their students as young people without trying to describe why they engage in the behaviors they do. When you think about it, its pretty dangerous to try to describe why a student or any person engages in a particular behavior when you in fact have no idea how true or false your opinion is. Especially given that often times the way these behaviors are being described is from a negative/deficit perspective. It speaks to the often overlooked power dynamics that come into play as a teacher who is entrusted to protect and develop the young people you serve.
Anywho, I wanted to share a piece I wrote up about myself regarding my own interests and preferences. The assignment is attached below. The goal was to deeply review one of our own interests and think about how deeply it influenced our own identity as a person. We’re being asked to do the same thing for our students we’re observing later in the semester.
Track and Field
Describe the different ways this interest has shown itself as you grew up or the different forms this interest/preference has taken at different times in your life. In this description, describe:
how you came to know you had this interest or preference
what you did with this interest as a child
whether you pursued this interest on your own or with others; how others supported or showed interest in what you were doing; how others knew you had this interest
I had the benefit of living on a block where there were long stretches of road and sidewalk that somehow became racing posts for my neighbors and myself. When I was young, I remembered racing was always the activity/sport/game that I enjoyed the most with my friends. There was a solid group of us all within the same 3-4 year age range who would often congregate in our cul-de-sac to play games or just be kids. Fast-forward to the future and many of us became star/active players on many of our high school’s sports teams. My sister – soccer, Tiara – track, Darren – basketball, Ranard basketball and football I think, and myself track.
We had 4 different racecourses that we would use. For quick sprints we could use the 70m of sidewalk around Tiara’s house, or the entire length of the cul-de-sac and back in front of our house. For longer sprints we could use the long hill that all of our houses sat on. Ranards at the very top, passing Tiara’s house, our house, all the way down to Darren’s. I would say the hill had to be about 200 meters long. And then finally the long course of running the Sullivan Lane, Hickok, and Blackhawk Drive which was possibly a half-mile long.
Running had always been my passion from early on. I could play basketball all right, and did a season of soccer my freshman year following my sister’s footsteps. But there was something about the black and white competition of running that I loved more than anything in the world. It was competition that everyone could see and everyone could understand. I loved that I was always one of the fastest kids on the block even though I was a skinny scrawny non-athletic looking kid for most of my life.
As a child I couldn’t do much with this interest but continue to race people on the street. I didn’t know about AAU leagues or the USATF yet. I was probably in middle school when I first started to pay attention to track meets on TV. I couldn’t wait to join track in high school as it was the first thing I’ve ever felt confident I could be good in.
I’m not quite sure how others supported me running. I have a tendency to live in a world of tunnel vision. Off top I would say my soccer coaches and teammates, cross-country coaches and teammates, and family supported me in varying and actually competing ways. My mother, infamously made me quit the track team early on my freshman year because of a bad grade I was getting in math. Around this time (approximately 2 weeks into conditioning) I was actually really frustrated with the team. I hadn’t imagined how exhausting and difficult training would be. The practices and training were so much harder than I had experienced in soccer. I don’t know what I would have done, but I believe had I not been made to quit I would have fallen off the team to my own accord just given how difficult it was for me.
Luckily, I had to spend an entire year listening to people tell me I sucked at running which is why I quit. It really made me furious because I knew I was fast, and knew that my speed was the last thing I was worried about. Luckily sophomore year came around and I went back out for the team, and became an instant contributor to the varsity team.
Describe briefly how this interest/preference lives in your life now.
I don’t run anymore. I actually haven’t watched a full track meet since I left NCAA Nationals as a senior on my college’s track team back in 2007. Track became and still is a bittersweet experience for me. It paid my way through college, and serves still today as the impetus to every opportunity I’ve gotten in life. Any leadership position in college, and in my professional life stems from the experiences and status earned through track and field. Even my closest friends, rivalries, and enemies stem from track and field. At one point I was a college roommate with two of my biggest rivals in the state in high school. My frat brother/big brother was also a member on my track team. My close female friends were members of the team as well. All of whom are still in my life.
Through track I grew into my body. I remember graduating high school around 5’8 weighing 123 pounds. I was extremely skinny and lanky. I graduated college at 5’10 around 145. And now weigh around 159 pounds. 165 around my heaviest. I say this to show that through track I grew into the physical man I am today. Which may sound superficial or unimportant, but as an athlete it plays a huge part into who I am to the outside world, and most importantly to myself. Track made me healthy, it made me look healthy, it taught me how to keep myself healthy and in shape. It is through this lens that I constantly critique my health, fitness, form, mental state, and appearance for others and myself. To translate – because of my 9 years as a semi-professional track athlete, I feel chained to keeping myself healthy and in shape. I don’t run anywhere near as much as I should, but I do maintain a pretty active and consistent space in LIU’s gym and Planet Fitness. (As as I’ve mentioned before on the blog, when I’m not in the gym my entire life seems to spiral out of control.)
Describe what you may have learned from pursuing the interest and the satisfactions you may have gained from it.
Track has taught me the art of competition. I was a natural winner that relied totally on natural talent for the entire time I ran. My largest lesson from track is failure. I relied on talent so much that I can see in hindsight how much further I could have gone had I understood what it really meant to push myself. I made it to nationals and was ranked in the country off sheer talent, and wavering interest. Similar to an early Serena Williams, but of course not as great or iconic. Had I been in the weight room, been training at my peak at all times, rehabbed seriously, and worked with my coaches more effectively I could probably still be running right now professionally for a living, as I see some of my college peers doing via Facebook.
I take these lessons and apply them to my everyday life. This is why I try to go so amazingly hard in grad school and teaching. It’s the first opportunity I felt I’ve had since, that I could really push my own boundaries and train for excellence as though I was back on the field.
On the surface, I gained a lot of medals, friends, accolades, records, experiences, travels, money, and headaches, and frustrations from track that I would never return. But this understanding of success and training is the most important take away that I feel I’m able to apply better now than I could 6 years ago as my time as an athlete came to an end.