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2005-02-11 - 2:29 p.m.

“It Doesn’t Matter, Joan. I’m Gonna Play Basketball!”

“It doesn’t matter, Joan. I’m gonna play basketball.” That is a direct quote out of the mouth of one of my students – a student, who, according to his grandmother's reports,got three ‘F’s on his last progress report.

“You mean your plan is to be a professional ballplayer?” I asked.

“Yeah. I think I’ll be drafted,” he answered.

“You might want to do a bit of research to find out how many players in the world are drafted out of high school, J.” I don’t actually know the answer to that question, but I’m pretty sure the number would be small, if any. “It seems to me you should have a Plan B. I don’t want to put a damper on your dreams of being a professional ballplayer, J, but if you don’t get your grades up before the end of this year, you’ll not be allowed to play sports of any kind in high school.”

“Well,…”

“J, you’re not hearing me. If you can’t play basketball in high school, the college scouts won’t see you. And you aren’t likely to graduate from high school at the rate you’re going. Most drafting for professional teams is done from college - not high school. I’m worried for you. What if you should have an injury that prevents you from playing ball professionally? What else might you do with your life?”

“Are you sure I won’t be able to play ball in high school?”

“Not with the grades you’re turning out now, J.”

That was in early January when his grandmother came to visit me. J lives with his grandparents and playing sports is the most important thing in his life – where he gets what self-esteem he has. I’ve seen him play baseball and he seems to be a gifted athlete. He reads well, but has a difficult time with math, which is where I come in. We’ve gone back to work on math at the fourth grade level. He knows and can work with basic facts, but give him a word problem and he hasn’t a clue whether to add, subtract, multiply or divide. Frequently, when he comes to our sessions after school, he professes to be just too tired to think. He's no doubt been playing basketball for an hour or two.

Just after relating to me the F’s on the progress report, J’s grandmother explained the situation as follows: “ J’s baseball team (community baseball, not school, so they don’t seem to care that student is failing in school) begins practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting the first week of February. Is there any way you can switch the days he comes to you for math tutoring?”

“You mean, he’s failing in three courses in school, but is going to be allowed to participate in after-school sports?” I asked.

“Yes, his grandfather thinks that he needs an outlet…a place to let off steam.”

I’m underwhelmed. What I would have used as a “carrot” to motivate him to do his homework, get it turned it, or even get help from resources at school if needed, so that he might be able to play ball, is not part of their scenario.

My job is to teach him math – not offer grand-parenting advice, so I switched the days. Better that he at least have two hours of after-school tutoring in math - along with the twenty hours a week he’ll probably be spending on baseball!

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