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What My Students Learned From the 49ers

Cheri learns that sometimes the most "teachable moments" occur when you least expect them. Thanks to the loss for the 49ers, our "quote of the week" hit home!

“You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat.”  - Christy Mathewson

Last week, the above quote just happened to be the one written on the white board of my fifth grade classroom — chosen by a student.  

On every first day the quote is written, students interpret what that quote means, how it applies to them with examples and to research who the author of the quote is. In this case, the author is Christy Mathewson (who is one of the best pitchers in major leagues history, pitching in the early 20th century).

Interestingly enough, the same week of the quote, one of my students was devastated when he did not make the baseball team he was expecting so he digested that quote first-hand.  

There were also a few students who flunked the Friday math test on "Multiplying & Dividing Fractions" for the second week in a row.  

So when we returned this week to find that quote still glaring us in the face, many of my students could relate to what our backyard Niners might have felt across the bay when they lost the NFC Championship in overtime. Just one step from making it to the Superbowl.  (That would be like receiving an A on a report card, but not having "AP" credits!)

"Ms.Eplin, No. 10 received death threats to him and his family," one student was shocked to report. Of course those that watched the game knew that No. 10, Kyle Williams, made that notorious fumble on a punt return (amongst some other "fumbles") that some say cost them the game.

"But Ms.Eplin," another student chimes in, "It's not just his fault. Other people made mistakes, too."

One of my biggest 49er fans adds his thoughts as he could barely contain himself to share, hand jetting in air, begging to be called on, "Hey, they had a great season and some people never thought they'd get this far! I think they'll rock it next year!" Now there's some positive thinking!

Shyly, one of my other students raises her hand.  "Why would someone make a death threat on a football player? It's only a game."  A chorus of "Yeahs!" support her statement.

And the conversation went on like that for about ten more minutes.

What has always amazed me is how often I am impressed by the intelligent and well-thought out responses and suggestions of my fifth-grade students. (Imagine, if you will, 10 and 11-year olds debating rather than...well, I think you get the idea.)

Although some may never see the connections some of my students make, such as the one who didn't make the baseball team... my students surely related to Kyle Williams and the sheer disappointment fueled by expectations from not only himself, but others. (Although I hope my student didn't throw a bat like Williams threw his helmet.)

What we gleaned from this quote that surfaced by someone (Mathewson) who experienced victory and defeat almost a hundred years ago is that it is easy to brag and be lifted up by victory but how you act when the chips are down is a truer testament to character.

Certainly I want my students to achieve and do well academically. Of course, I will provide opportunities for them to push themselves in ways they would never imagine.  Yet, I also want students to understand that a bad grade, (or several, for that matter) or not making a team, or losing, does not define who they are. In fact, no one can define who they are except for themselves.  

At any given moment, we all decide who we want to be.  

Yes, there are grains of truth in words others share about what or who they think we are, but no one knows all the pieces to your puzzle.  

We need to learn when to shut out the external noise that can take us down faster than, say, a football spiraling football through the field goal.

Whether you are Kyle Williams — and I can tell you there are 32 students in my class that truly feel for him — or you, you are going to make mistakes and you are just going to feel defeated.  

And no, it's not a game.  

But, experiencing defeat and victory, making poor and good choices, feeling sad and happy... and all the emotions and experiences of everything in between... this is what we call — life.

Kirsten Branch January 27, 2012 at 08:38 PM
An important message, Cheri. Thanks for sharing that (and for bringing that lesson into your classroom)! I hope they move forward holding onto it. As a mom, I worry so much about kids, including my own, who may lose hope because they can't bear to fail, or feel "less than." I consider it mission critical in my own family to equip my boys to understand what you've spoken about here. Great column!
Cheri Eplin January 28, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Kirsten, thanks for commenting! I also hope they remember the "lesson" and will be able to apply it to their lives (my students and my boys.) And I'd like to tell you the "worry" for a mom goes away as the kids get older but it sometimes gets worse! "Worry" is that gift that keeps on giving... (same applies with "guilt.")

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