I got home late Saturday night from the State Championship. I coach high school debate. I competed in high school and college. When I was a student, my main concern was winning. My second interest was being with my friends. Now, my first concern as a coach is the kids not getting into trouble. There have been State Championships in the past when I went to bed saying, “Jesus, don’t let them have sex. Don’t’ have sex. Don’t do drugs. Don’t do anything illegal or stupid.” My second concern is that my students learn. I teach them philosophy, public speaking, and debate. And winning—of course, winning is important.
A Fog of Nausea and Grief
The past month or so, I’ve been preparing my students for state championships. (Yes, we compete in two different championships for two different leagues. The second one requires traveling down south for three hours, spending four days with them, and it’s intense.) Beyond the usual stress (fatigue, pain, being responsible for a group of teenagers), I’ve been enduring nausea from my new treatment (for the pain in my eyes and ears) and grief from Jess’s death. As I blogged about before, my friend Jess died from muscular dystrophy. As someone who fights myasthenia gravis daily, I lost a fellow soldier. All that is to say that I have not been at my best lately—it’s hard to teach when you feel like you might vomit half the time and you’re still grieving. I’ve been in a fog since late February, and my students have no idea.
The first State Championship happened a week after Jess’s death. As a result, I only took one day off from work. I worked on this lesson plan the week before State—teaching the students how to write and memorize stellar attention-getters for their introductions. That weekend, one of my freshmen won second place, beating out 200 other students. (The seniors were separated for that tournament, but still he beat out hundreds of sophomores and juniors—quite a feat for a freshman.) For last week’s State Championship, there was no division—all the students competed against each other regardless of their grades. And two of my students—a sophomore and a senior—were semi-finalists. For the senior, it was the first time he’d ever “broke,” a term we use in speech and debate when a competitor makes it to the next level. In the single most important tournament of his forensics career, he finally made it. We didn’t bring home the trophy but it was one of the most memorable moments I’ve had as a coach.
Kids Say the Darndest Things
On the ride home, the students initiated an activity that I taught them last December. Around the holidays, I have this tradition where the students sit around in a circle and one by one, we say nice things about every teammate and coach. It usually lasts twenty minutes. On the bus, one of the kids said, “Hey, everybody let’s play ‘the nice game.’” The game lasted two hours! This is one of the most unified teams I’ve ever had—all the students have a profound respect for each other, and the love is palpable. I found out that my students think I’m much younger than I am and my female students like my makeup a lot. One of my juniors said,
“I’m sure you get paid peanuts for your job. (A lot of the other students insisted, Hey you have no idea what her salary is!) Usually when a coach is paid nothing, it becomes a joke. But you give your all every minute of every practice to teach us. We’ve learned so much from you…”
Sometimes, we can’t be at “our best.” But, even so, our best is enough.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno