Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Good School: 5th/6th Grade Girls Soccer


I ran a good school today. It's an academy for fifth and sixth grade girls that I run with another father out on the soccer field at Barry Park every Thursday evening during the fall and spring. We meet for an hour and a quarter (an hour and half until the last parent picks up their daughter) and there is much frivolity and ridiculousness.

So what makes it a good school?

The frivolity and ridiculousness to start with. The girls come out and have fun. They are silly, they fail to listen, they run the drills we come up with but don't get them right, and they steadfastly refuse to stop kicking the ball with their toes. Then, even if it's raining, they dump bottles of water over their heads, dig cleats into as much mud as they can find, and find other things to pay attention to than their two fabulous instructors.

Okay, so what's good about the school?

I may be avoiding that question since I'm one of the instructors.

We administer weekly tests of the girls' learning every Saturday. These are non-standard tests involving a whole 'nother team of girls trying to kick the ball in the opposite direction. There is some pushing and occasionally crying, but the tests are watched over by young teaching assistants with whistles and the whole thing works pretty well.

The girls score their own tests as this is a school where, supposedly, no grading is kept on file. Still, they know exactly how many goals have been scored by them (and by whom) and how many against (and who let those goals go by). The tests vary in levels of intensity with Pink and Lime Green being grade-level appropriate but Blue being entirely unfair and stacked against them.

The good school can be seen in the fact that the girls keep getting better. The tests, most weeks anyway, grow more difficult, but the girls on our team have it under control.

Today's lesson, according to the lesson plan loosely drawn up by the guy I co-teach with, was about off-sides. It's a difficult lesson, but we are tremendous teachers (tenured for so long as our daughters are in the league) and up to the task. I took half of the girls to one end of the field while he kept the other half on the other end. We broke into four on four and I positioned the girls in a slow-motion movement to show them off-sides. I knew that things were going well when the girls took over the lecture. I was shushed pretty quickly as one girl, then another, and another weighed in on what we were learning. They were dead on correct about it and so I let them go.

Soon enough, it was time to demonstrate. I was referee and called off sided over and over. (We have one player who, though she has a working understanding of off sides, still sees no reason not to take advantage of an open goal and to hell with the rule.) Once they stopped committing off sides I switched things up. Being an ingenious teacher, I told them that the goal now was to purposefully be off sides. They thought this was ridiculous and foolish and so were more than happy to oblige.

Watching them, I saw that they had the lesson. Watching them, I also knew that come Saturday, during the test, they would commit off sides almost constantly. I know this because I'm working with fifth- and sixth-grade girls who are much more interested in goofing around than concentrating on game skills. A good school teacher is realistic about the goals, understands that learning something on Thursday has almost no practical effect on performance on Saturday, and knows that given the choice between fooling around and paying attention all kids are fools.

Still, it's not for nothing that we taught off sides and there will be a couple girls who internalize it for Saturday's game and beyond. We will talk about it at the game, going over the calls and explaining what has happened. We will remind them not to be off sides when they are working the ball down to our goal. They will succeed and fail and it will all be just fine. The parents will be glad that their kids have had a good run-around. We will be happy to survive another week. And the girls, walking off the field, will almost all say, happily, "see you at practice on Thursday!" Which is just a way of saying, I like this school.

See if you can get a bunch of fifth- and sixth-graders to say that on a regular basis about the school with the yellow buses out front. Go ahead. I dare you.

Kick and write on.