great expectations

one day, in my first year as a high school teacher, i encountered my principal in the hallway…and she asked me…

so, are you gonna have a team this year?

me: a team for what?

principal: for skillsusa, the state competition our teachers send students to? (at this time, i really had no idea what skillsusa even was–now, i know that it’s a national student organization that holds skills competitions in a variety of trades each year)

me: send students to? in what area?

principal: well, for you, it would probably be ‘the crime scene investigation competition’–where your students would process a crime scene from beginning to end.

me: crime scene investigation?! i’ve never processed a crime scene myself–how am i supposed to teach them how to do that?!

principal: i know, but i’m sure you’ll figure it out (and then she walked off).

[this is how messages get delivered (sometimes) at our school…anyways, you might be thinking…well, you’re the criminal justice teacher, right?! you should know this stuff.  well, one of the things that most people don’t know about criminal justice is that ‘not everyone who has worked in criminal justice has been a cop, investigator, or csi’–in fact, there are literally hundreds of jobs in criminal justice–and the cop, investigator, and csi are just three career designations in a very big pond…in my case, i had a master’s degree in criminal justice and worked in the specialty area of juvenile justice–working in different facilities with kids who got in trouble with the law–not in crime scene investigation]

so, i was left standing there…dumbfounded…thinking…

how in the hell am i supposed to do that?! this has to be some kind of joke?!

so, that year, with all the trials and tribulations a first year teacher endures…i didn’t send a team…

in my second year at the school, my principal asked me once again…

so, are you going to send a team this year?

if i felt like i didn’t have a choice when she asked me the question last year, then i definitely felt cornered this time around–the stakes were higher…it was expected…

so, i said…

yep. 

[with absolutely no idea about how i was going to do this]…

you’ve probably heard the term ‘growing edges’…it’s a euphemism for being pushed to do something you’re not comfortable doing, and on-top of that, not sure if you’re capable of doing it…i like to refer to it as ‘the gauntlet’…the dark passage…will you succeed? will you make it to the other side? or will you go down in flames?

luckily, when she asked me the question this time….i had about 5 months until the competition…and i used every spare moment i had (outside of teaching) to read and learn and talk to people in the field–police officers, crime scene investigators, detectives–about how to process a crime scene…and then i read some more…oh, and then i read some more…

based upon what i learned, i figured it would take a couple of weeks to train my students–my team of three (despite all the promotional stuff we do each year, we typically end up with just a handful of students who are interested in these competitions)…how to do this and how to do it right…what i had come to know was that…while processing a crime scene wasn’t rocket science–there was a right way to do it; and things needed to be done in a correct and ordered fashion…with specific attention to detail and documentation (there was also a significant amount of gear that i had to order to make sure we had all the right supplies to collect the evidence)…

so, we met and trained and went through different crime scenarios that i had prepared for them (outside of the normal class schedule)…

as we trained, i felt confident with what i was teaching them to do…still, there was that lingering question…can i pull this off?

honestly, i was still rattled…i had no idea how they would do when it came to the competition…ultimately, i was just hoping i didn’t embarrass myself…and i didn’t want to let the kids down either…granted, i couldn’t be there to see them compete (none of the advisors/coaches are allowed to watch the contests)…it was up to the students, they were on their own…and the judges (real crime scene investigators and detectives) and that was it…sink or swim…

so, on the day of the contest, i met them outside the main bay of elevators in the conference center lobby…they were told that their competition would be in a room, on the top floor of the hotel, where the skillsusa conference was being held…a crime scene would be set up in that room (and the judges would be there to greet them)…i was not to come up with them…

so, i wished them good luck and sent them up…

[the crime scene investigation competition takes about two to three hours for students to complete]

so, i waited in the lobby…and waited…and waited…

about two 2.5 hours later, the elevator doors opened and my students clambered out with all of their crime scene gear…

i peppered them with questions…how did it go? was it what you expected? what was it like?

they answered all my questions…a few times they mentioned things that could’ve been done differently (per the judges)…and a few times they mentioned things that the judges really liked…

after talking for a while, i asked them…

do you feel good about how you did? about what you did?

they said…

yes.

i nodded and said…

then, that’s all that matters…

i shook their hands and told them to go and enjoy the rest of the conference…and then i told them that i would see them tomorrow at the awards ceremony…we wouldn’t know until the next day how we really did…depending on your scores, you could place first, second, third, or not at all…

i wasn’t counting on anything…

well, i didn’t sleep much that night…tossing and turning…and morning finally came…it was awards ceremony day…

there were hundreds of kids there, kids who had competed in everything from nail care to carpentry, from auto repair to photography…if you can think of a trade, then it was probably represented by a contest at this competition–honestly, it’s a pretty cool thing to see…anyways, all of the kids were seated and nervously waiting for the awards to be announced (so were the advisors)…

i wasn’t counting on anything…

the awards ceremony lasted a good 3+ hours…and as it went on, i would see students from our school get awards …cosmetology, photography, graphic design, and others…it seemed like our school was well represented…as the ceremony went on, i would steal a quick glance at my students (who were seated next to me)…i could sense how tense they were…i was too…

we must have waited for more than 2 hours to hear the results of our contest…and then it came…

announcer: for crime scene investigation (high school)…

third place…

[wasn’t us]

second place…

[wasn’t us]

first place…

[it was us]

he called our name, we won! i just about lost it, i couldn’t believe it…i was jumpin’ for joy…

we just won first place for crime scene investigation, we just won first place in state!

at that moment, the kids went nuts…i was so happy for them, i was so proud of them! i watched them go up to the podium and accept their awards…they had accomplished something great, we had accomplished something great…and as i looked around the great hall, all of my colleagues were looking at me…i could see the respect in their eyes…

unbelievable?!

the kids and i went on to compete in nationals, they didn’t place…but, they showed well and did a great job…in the years to come, i coached three more state championship teams…and i’m always recruiting for the next competition…

to this day, i always think of that first contest, that first title…as one of the most awesome, crazy, proud, freakish, unbelievable and unforgettable moments in my teaching career…

note: for a classic example of “how not to process a crime scene”, take a look at the footage that shows the italian crime scene investigators processing the amanda knox crime scene…completely and totally careless, utterly ridiculous!

tradecraft…your voice (part I)

i remember inviting my parents to come to a soccer game that i was coaching…

i had visited my parents at their jobs, and i thought it was ‘pretty eye-opening’ to see them in action–they worked hard, enjoyed what they did and had the respect of their colleagues…nowadays they’re retired and living in a retirement community that caters to veterans/ex-service men and women–so they spend their days driving the posted speed limit-“13 mph” (they live in one of the colonies), drinking margaritas at the daily happy hour event, and loungin’ in their soft clothes🙂

anyways…back then…i wondered what they would think of me as a coach…

they showed up before kick-off and stayed for the whole game; afterwards, my mom said (wide-eyed), they really listened and responded to you?! …it was a compliment, but she sounded incredulous, almost like she couldn’t believe what she saw:)

truth be told, i didn’t know i had it in me either…i didn’t know that i was capable of “coaching” until i started doing it…interestingly, she identified one of the most important tools available to someone who herds cats for a living…

communication

at that moment, i realized that i had this tool in my toolbox–i could talk to kids, i could encourage them, i could motivate them…i could use my words, i could use my voice–to influence them (and i liked it)…

i think apollo creed liked it too…

spiderman and other freaks…

i remember when i was trying-out for the soccer team at william mitchell high school in colorado springs, colorado…it was back when i was a sophomore and a transfer student to the district…at this time in my life, i was so small (and skinny)…not the hulking, hunk of chiseled beef you see walking the streets of minneapolis nowadays;)

back then, i was so skinny that they used to call me spiderman…i mean, it was crazy how freakishly small i was–if i turned sideways, i would disappear (my super-power)!  note to world: self/body image issues are not unique to girls/women…and let me tell you–no guy, at any point in their k-12 school career, wants to be “that small”…

anyways, back to the fall tryouts…it so happened that i made the jv soccer team…and once that was established, the coach went about training and evaluating us further…to see who would be in the “starting line-up”…

i remember one day during our training, another sophomore (a guy who kinda looked like an older version of the evil kid from the omen-the original 1976 classic…which still holds up as one of creepiest halloween movies of all-time!) who had also made the jv squad…made a comment directed at me–he said, ‘this guy doesn’t realize he’s too small for the team’…walking right behind him came a senior/varsity player (a person who looked to be a fully grown man–as evident by the 5 o’clock shadow he was sportin’ at 3pm) who said, “he can play” (matter-of-factly) and continued on his way…funny thing was, that same senior was one of my club team coaches from the summer before (i seriously thought he was an adult when he was my coach:)

well, training went on for a few more days before our first game and i worked hard (encouraged by the words of the senior/varsity player/former coach)…and the other sophomore made a few more jabs…then, game day finally came…

on game day, the jv coach had us all huddled up as he went over the starting line-up & the game plan…and he called my name, i was starting at right center midfield!  one name he didn’t call was that of the guy who had been taunting me…anyways, i started that game and every remaining game that year–while my nemesis rode the pine…when i walked out onto the field, i looked back at him and smiled–my face, my posture, and every nonverbal part of my being…if translated…said one thing: what’s up now, bitch?!

the words “he can play” were big for me…heartened me, gave me strength…in that moment, my former coach was lookin’ out for me and i appreciated it then (and now)…and that lookin’ out is something i’ve tried to adopt in my own work with kids…especially, with kids on the margins…you know, the ones the rest of the world calls freaks

happy halloween!!!

sincerely–your friendly neighborhood spiderman

tradecraft: the “ten attitude”

one of the first paid youth positions i held was as a soccer coach with skyhawk’s sports academy in washington state…(it was a summer sports camp organization)…

i was nineteen when i first started working with this organization, and at the time…i didn’t know jack about working with kids…green as could be…a complete and total rookie!

looking back, i realize that this was a great place to start what has now become a life-long career for me, what has become my profession…honestly, i owe a lot to this organization and to the people i worked with during those summers (4)…it was soooooo influential for me–it still impacts my work today…more than 20 years later!!!

i had played soccer since i was five, i loved it, so this job was fun for that reason and also because i worked with a lot of guys i played soccer with in high school…i worked with quite a few friends…jeff, tuan, “ghandi”, john, hugh, ben and others–guys who loved soccer and loved the job!  we would travel around the state together, lead soccer camps (to kids aged 5-12 years old), scrimmage after camp times, and hang-out…what more could you ask for in a job?! working here (6 hours a day, 5 days a week), i learned how to motivate, inspire, encourage, train, coach, listen and talk to kids…i also learned a lot of great games and stories and “how to tell stories” (each day after lunch, the camp director would tell crazy-funny stories to the entire camp of kids–anywhere from 20-100 kids–keeping their attention and entertaining them for up to 30 minutes–so great)!!!

of all the things i learned working here, the most important was “the attitude you bring to the job”…i still remember the first time i met the vice president of skyhawk’s…his name was dave…and he led us in some games and drills (just like he would do if he were leading a group of kids) and he was extremely positive, enthusiastic and engaging…and in leading us in that way, he was teaching us about the energy and enthusiasm that he (and the organization)  expected us to bring to camp each and every day…

and he asked us, “where are you, on a scale of 1-10, today?!” (ten being the highest, best/most positive attitude you can have)…”do you have a ‘ten attitude’???”…the lesson here was simple…your attitude matters; it is vitally important to how you relate, motivate and coach these young people–it is a choice, choose to be a ten!!! 

further reading: if you have an interest in this kind of thing, attitude and motivation…you should check out the book in the side-bar titled, “make the big time where you are” by frosty westering…one of the most successful college football coaches (ever) and a great human being!

cheers!

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