The Day My Basketball Pass Went Awry

“Keep your day job, Mrs. Swartz.”

This is what a principal said to me after I hit him with a basketball. Not on purpose, of course. But the temptation to amuse myself had been too great. On a trip to the office during my planning period, I had encountered a student in an otherwise empty hall.

Michael was a quiet kid who sat in the back of my second-period. There was never a moment’s trouble from him, but there weren’t moments of active engagement, either.

A gym helper, he was carrying a newly pumped-up basketball. On impulse, I held out my hands. Michael’s eyes widened, but he bounced the ball toward me. All the way down the long, empty hall we swapped bounce passes. Finally, he couldn’t help it. And a smile broke through.

At the corner where we would part ways, me to the office, him to the gym, my pass went awry. At that very moment, the principal came into view and the ball smacked into him. His face turned instantly stern and his mouth opened. Then he saw I was the culprit. But as Michael stood agape, a smile broke through on the principal’s face.

And that’s when the principal advised me not to switch to a basketball career.

Michael changed after that. He didn’t frantically wave his hand to answer every question I asked. But he looked up. He looked at me. He seemed to recognize that I was a person, even though I was a teacher. He even gave a nod now and then.

Got it, he was saying, I’m with you.

Michael taught me a lesson that that day—that sometimes teachers can reach students by breaking the shell of convention, by doing something off beat, a little quirky, something teachers don’t usually do.

I had often watched funny teachers and wish for their humor. But passing the basketball with Michael, showed that, if I couldn’t be funny, I could at least reach toward whimsy. And that students learned better when I did.

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