Come to the blacktop at my middle school and hang out for a couple of hours. You'll get a sense of what 12-to-14-year olds like and how they act. For them this is the center of the world.
When I started teaching in 2009, I watched life unfold on the asphalt. During recess and before and after school, the boys took center stage on all four basketball courts — dribbling, pivoting, guarding, pushing, blocking, faking, jumping, dunking, high fiving and taunting each other. They were agile and fast. The girls talked to each other and watched the boys from the perimeter of the tarmac. My instinct had always been to jump right into the action! Why weren't these girls playing on the blacktop? Why didn't they join the boys or take control of a court themselves?
I teach U.S. and world history to 200 7th & 8th graders in Daly City, California, just south of San Francisco. It's a low-income school and close to 80 percent of the students are new immigrants — from Central and South America, Mexico, Russia, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries. It's tough coming up with a lesson that connects to such a diverse audience. Recently I compared the Declaration of Independence to a break-up letter between a girlfriend and boyfriend. The colonialists listed all the reasons for breaking up with the King of England. This approach totally worked and the kids were hooked!
Three months into the job, the athletic director asked if I'd coach one of the girls' basketball teams — in addition to teaching social studies. Frankly, I was overwhelmed. I hadn't anticipated how difficult teaching would be — especially at a school where kids show up in the morning stressed out. Their parents are struggling to adapt to a new country, find work and support their families. Often 12 people or more are crowded into a single apartment. Some kids are homeless. Some parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. My kids experience a lot of pressure. A quarter of them are in counseling.
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Sarah Egan teaches social studies and coaches girls' basketball at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Daly City, California. Sarah credits her own participation in sports — from middle school through college — to Title IX. Her players demonstrate the power of sports to transform lives. Sarah continues to raise the visibility of girls' sports in her school and witness the transformation of budding athletes into stronger students. This summer Sarah will tour several Civil War battlegrounds, taking notes and photos and dreaming up ways to excite middle school kids about history.