I’m an IOAPA Mentor: Helping Our Students Out of Quicksand

This is a blog post modified from the blog Be Great! Get Better!.  This post and the post in its original version were written by Matt Degner, principal at South East Junior High School in Iowa City, IA.

I am a sucker for sports movies. My all-time favorite is Major League. I could recite lines from it all day long and laugh to myself. This makes my wife think she married a weirdo, but my brother and friends think it’s pretty cool. The fact that I know Jake Taylor tames Wild Thing, gets the bunt down, reaches first, and helps the Indians win the pennant is enough for me no matter the reaction. During the #IAedchat on October 13, 2013; I found myself thinking how I could relate to the feeling I believe students have when things do not seem to be going well at school.  I still struggled for a way to put it into context and then a movie quote hit me. It comes from another sports classic, The Replacements.

You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move…you can’t breathe…because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.

Shane Falco – The Replacements

Why can school (or online coursework) feel this way?  Not all of it comes easy, no matter who you are. I take solace in knowing that Shane Falco had a happy ending, he gets the girl and the job. He overcomes his challenges and succeeds at quarterback. Students can succeed too, but they will need help. It’s not that bad things will not happen; it is how we respond to those unpredictable challenges that determine our success. Student must be taught that they cannot always control what happens to them.  But, they are always in control of their response.

As educators we also know that it’s not if a student will make a mistake, but when. When that time comes we have a great opportunity to promote growth in our students. We need to teach our students how look for help. Too often I see students that give up after one negative behavior incident or a poor performance on a piece of graded work. We have to teach them how to deal with adversity. We cannot expect them to know the way out.  That’s why we are here.

One of the best ways out is through a support system. In the movie, The Replacements, Shane Falco had Coach Jimmy McGinty to pull him out of his “quicksand.” Who will be your student’s Coach Jimmy McGinty? Who provides them perspective?

I am here to tell you it is you!

What happens to Shane Falco if Jimmy McGinty never comes along? He lives a life stuck in the Sugar Bowl being drubbed with 3 concussions. He never believes he can be better. Success depends on the relationships we form and those people that help us be better than we thought we could be. There are often no quick solutions to our most difficult problems, but the people we surround ourselves with will help us create a path out. Our students need to learn this skill from us.

The message to our students must be, when you feel like you have hit quicksand quit fighting back so hard. Step back from the enormity of it all, focus on completing one task first, and talk to a supportive person or mentor. Students need to understand they are not really in over their head–they just need to get their head back. If we can successfully pass this knowledge on to our students then we have taught them a lesson that lasts a lifetime.

Be Great!

Matt [Degner]

Principal, South East Junior High

Iowa City, IA

2 responses to “I’m an IOAPA Mentor: Helping Our Students Out of Quicksand

  1. Reblogged this on it's just math . . . and commented:
    My husband reblogged for the Belin-Blank Center’s blog. Shameless, I know . . . but its just a great post!

  2. Great post, Matt. Thank you. (Proud to have been one of your teachers. :-) ) Judy Morrison

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