My son ran everyday this summer for his high school cross country team. He went to every practice, worked hard, and was consistently running between the top two groups. He felt strong and at the top of his game. In August, he was invited to attend cross country camp for two weeks, which involved even more running and lots of team building. At one point, he was playing football on the beach with some of his teammates and the coach yelled at only him to stop playing. When one of his teammates asked why the rest of them weren't told to stop playing, the coach responded by saying, “He’s group one, he matters.” Ouch! Because my son was running borderline varsity, and the others weren't, they didn't matter? Sadly, the boys laughed it off and simply dismissed it as coach just being coach. I on the other hand struggled to keep the helicopter parent lurking inside of me from speaking up about the insensitivity of this statement. Ironically, just a few days later, my son injured his Achilles and could no longer maintain his training regimen. I was bummed for him because he was positioned to have a good running season, but my heart broke when he jokingly said that he was now a member of the “I don't matter anymore group.” Whether this is the message the coach wants to send his team or not, the reality is that the runners believe that only certain kids on the team matter. The ones who can score points for the team. Now don't get me wrong, I understand that cross country is a competitive sport and the team wants to do their best to win as many meets as possible, but at what expense? My son continues to go to practice everyday, along with physical therapy, and is working to get himself back into race shape. Each day I ask how practice went, if he was able to run the workout, and if his coach has had any conversation yet about his progress or a recovery plan. Every day I get the same answer. Practice was fine, yes I ran, and no, the coach hasn't talked to me at all. He still doesn't matter.
As I reflect on my son’s cross country season as well as my classroom, I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s famous quote:
I've learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did.
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
What we say and how we say it has a profound effect on our students. As educators we hold tremendous power to lift our students up or to push them down. I believe that all students do matter and that we have a moral responsibility to do what we can to make sure they know it!