Yesterday morning during my day job, I was walking around my classroom to monitor a weekly retrieval practice task when I noticed a kid who was doing his best to fool me into believing he was actually doing work.
It’s a game I was very familiar with as a student myself: he was staring downward at his blank paper while pretending to write by moving his pen somewhat arbitrarily with the tip hovering just high enough not to actually make a mark. I stopped next to him just to watch him for a moments before asking him how he was doing. He gave me the standard adolescent “fine” — the same “fine” I would’ve given my mom when she asked about how my school day was — so I just relayed the observation that his paper was still blank about 10 minutes in.
And he gave me a response that sort of caught me off guard: “I don’t want to answer and feel stupid so I’m just not doin’ nuthin’.”
In fairness, this wasn’t particularly surprising behavior from this kid. He’s frequently absent due to a host of family issues and landed in my special education classroom after a scholastic career full of fights, suspensions, and other challenges to authority. Showing up to school at all could sometimes be considered an achievement given the circumstances and part of the work in getting him back on track is simply building his sense of agency to succeed in school at all.
Or making him laugh a little.
Another adult in the room, a coach of sorts who specializes in keepin’ it absolutely 100% real, put his hand up to stop me as I began to open my mouth to throw a series of nurturing questions at the kid and said, “Well, the only way you’ll feel stupid is if you leave that paper like that.”
We all laughed, though the smirk on the kid’s face was also a subtle admission that the mental game he was playing with himself was a bigger problem than any actual lack of knowledge. After a few more minutes of playful banter between the three of us, his whole demeanor shifted, he adjusted his gangly body in his chair to sit upright, and got to work. I haven’t yet graded his paper — perhaps I should be doing that instead of writing this on this rainy Saturday? — but he completed the paper, dapped me up as we left the class, and went on about his day.
As a math teacher, this sort of encounter with students whose lack of belief is as big a barrier as any neurological limits — if not bigger — is somewhat routine even if the expression of it varies. “Math phobia” is not merely a myth — it’s not the only explanation of poor performance, but it’s a phenomenon that has to be tackled in addition to providing kids with strategies to feel a sense of self-efficacy.
As a special educator, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of my job is leveraging relationships to bolster kids’ belief in their own capacity to exist humanly in this world, no matter what messages the people around them have sent previously. And, for me, there is nothing more beautiful than watching someone embrace that belief in themselves — that’s what gets me to work everyday.
Shortly after that class period yesterday morning, I caught this tweet about Steph Curry’s mindset during the Warriors’ 115-101 win against the L.A. Lakers. As you may remember, he began the game missing his first eight shots — shots that we have grown accustomed to him making and are ultimately spoiled by.
What caught my attention was the comment at the end that Curry’s unshakeable belief in himself is part of what makes him so great.
In Sat game vs LA @StephenCurry30 started 0-8 thru 3 quarters. For most players there is no coming back from this, not for Steph! Join @tylercoston as he explains the mindset&habits of GREATNESS that allow Steph to handle this situation @warriors #DubNation pic.twitter.com/HNM05FGSLO— PGC Basketball (@PGCbasketball) February 8, 2019
Of course, belief alone is not what makes Curry great — most NBA players have that just as a necessity to even reach the NBA. But Jeff Van Gundy’s comment in that video absolutely rang true: we’ve seen so many athletes sulk, disengage, or start forcing things when games aren’t going their way.
Steph has had his share of high-profile mistakes, but he’s also shown us time and again that he has an umcommon level of resilience that stands out even among the brightest stars in the world.
Through the first three quarters of a pretty ragged game, Curry was shooting just 2-for-12 and had only 10 points. But he caught fire in the fourth, scoring a timely 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting.
But while he bided his time to set up his fourth quarter heroics, Curry managed to keep himself engaged in the game even as the team struggled.
He set up teammates, he worked on defense, he didn’t force the action like you might see other stars do — he stayed within his utterly spectacular self and took off in the fourth quarter.
Sometimes, I just have to step back and marvel at that: what we get to witness from Curry, even in games that will likely be forgotten before the month is over, is absolutely amazing.
It would be ridiculous to tell kids to “be more like Steph Curry” when they face adversity, real or perceived — hell, I don’t even have that in me. But his ability to avoid wallowing in his own sense of defeat and maintain enough belief in himself to perform despite things not going his way is something I deeply admire. As an educator who spends Saturday afternoons contemplating how to bring out the best in his students, watching Curry is an inspiration and something that I find myself wanting to appreciate just to make sure we never take this for granted.
Who was your Warrior Wonder for the Warriors win against the Suns?
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Who is your Golden Sidekick for the Warriors’ win against the Suns?
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