Monday, March 25, 2013

Too late...

There are those who are, angry, frustrated, upset, that Michigan's 22 year Streak of NCAA tournament appearance has ended.  I get that.  It's a natural reaction.  There are others who would rather celebrate what was rather than examining the particulars of how and why it ended.  I get that too.  The nature of history calls for that.  There are still others who want to focus on the redemptive aspects of the run at the end of the season.  I get that, try and find the positives in what is, ultimately, a negative result.  Ultimately, our reactions to this hockey season will be a mirror to who we are as both people and fans.

So my reflection is going to be a mirror of myself, as a high school teacher.
Little known fact by many of you, but the provisions of the Michigan Merit Curriculum say that even if you fail both marking periods of a course, if you pass a district approved (and state required) Common Assessment/Final Exam at 80%, you pass the class.  You don't get a grade, but you get the credit for passing.

Some of you already see where I am going with this.

I have seen many many talented students over the years.  I have seen many lazy students over the years.  You know what, lazy is unfair.  I have seen students who lack outward signs of motivation and engagement towards their academic success.  The scariest, most maddening type of student in my experience is the talented but undermotivated student.  They do exist.  And this kind of student is a nightmare, because you know that the student can do it, you know that the ability is there, but you need to understand why this student doesn't have the motivation.  So for the first three-quarters of the semester, you watch the student and you see the student doing work that earns a D- or E.  The student fails the first marking period.  So, responsibly, you have interventions, the two of you talk, you cajole, you try different motivational techniques, and as much as you have tried, nothing appears to be getting through.  So at that point, you keep fighting, but you have read this story before and you know the way the book ends.

Then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, our student friend has what our Southern friends refer to as a "come to Jesus" moment.  Call it an epiphany, call it a near death experience, call it a flash of insight, but the student has that moment where he or she understands what the stakes are, and he or she realizes that more than likely, he or she has blown it, but by the same token, he or she does have one shot to pass, if he or she passes the final with an 80%, he or she can still earn credit.  He or she would pass.  So the student makes a good faith effort, a truly sincere effort.  The student is showing you progress, the student is listening to your advice, the student is doing now what you always knew the student could be capable of the entire semester.

So then it comes to the final exam.  You believe in the student.  The student believes in his or herself.  The student uses the entire 100 minutes.  The student answers every question.  The student double and triple checks the answers.  The student turns the test in.

You grade it.  78%.

How do you react?  What is your conversation with the student at that point?

On one level, more than anything else, you must acknowledge that they did not reach the end goal.  If you want to call this a failure, you would be within your rights to do so.  No one could disagree.  But is that the main point here?  There will be consequences for the failure, ones which will need to be dealt with.  Or do you focus on the fact that this is a learning moment, that while the effort in the last five weeks may have fallen short of the ultimate goal, no one can take away the work put in, no one can take away from the student.  You focus on the idea that going forward, the lesson is that you can never trust everything on continuing to roll sevens every time you need them to come up.  You don't waste your margin for error until you have no margin left.  You woke up too late and there is a price to be paid.  So you pay it, you pay the price and you move forward to the next thing, hopefully smarter and wiser for the journey.

So, was it a failure?  Yes.  Did the team redeem themselves down the stretch?  I guess that depends on your threshold for redemption.  I will say yes, others have the right to disagree.  But as I wrote this piece, I was reminded of something I wrote five years ago, under circumstances that were both hauntingly similar and completely unfamiliar:

It's a scar, but a well-won scar; earned in battle in part because we stayed until the last man. Our numbers were diminished, but they were there. The loyal remained, the faithful held fast against the sweeping currents of reality and negativity. We could not change what had happened, we could not spin the results as hard as we tried. We looked to where all of college football lives, the past, and the future. The present is so fickle, so transient that meaning is lost as soon as the moment passes. So we examine what has been and what we hope shall be. We look for meaning in the past in a dire attempt to draw parallels to the future. But the past cannot change and soon this season shall reside there. We will tell the stories; sometimes when prompted, other times with motivations never necessarily clear to us, of what transpired this season. We will remember this season, in a context of which we are unsure now and may not know for a while, however long a while is anymore. But somewhere along the line, the memory will seep in and you won't even realize it was there until after it was gone. All you're left with is a scar, and a story about how you got it, and perhaps in the telling of the story, you can find peace with whether or not the scar was worth it.

RIP The Streak: 1991-2012

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