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Larry Efird: Getting good seats

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Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.

I love going to sporting events.

When I can afford tickets to a college football game or a basketball game, my week takes on a whole new meaning. I almost feel like a kid at Christmas who’s anticipating the big event because it can never come soon enough. But to add to that excitement is when I know I also have a good seat. I’m not that picky if I get in a game in the first place, but having a nice spot when I’m there simply adds to the thrill of the experience because of the up close perspective it provides.

I started teaching in Augusta, Georgia, in the last century. (Ouch!) Most of my students were Bulldog fans. When they found out that I would be going to my first game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, they assured me that I would become a Georgia fan for life. Being from North Carolina, I told them that I didn’t think that would happen, but I knew I would enjoy the game.

What I did not know when I attended the game was that we would be watching a freshman running back named Herschel Walker, a future Heisman Trophy winner, who would lead Georgia to an undefeated national championship later that season. After that special year of life “between the hedges,” I understood why my students loved Georgia football so much.

If I had never attended that game, I would never have understood what anyone meant when he grunted, “How ‘bout them Dawgs!” Besides the bad grammar and spelling, I would have also wondered, “So, what about them?” That’s the same response some of my students have when they enter my class: “So what?”

If I want my students to grow in their understanding of the curriculum and of the world in which they live, they first have to “get in the game.” That is no easy task for a high school teacher these days because many students who have never been successful in earlier grades have lost their desire to learn.

The days of revering teachers because they have a degree or because they have a title of “teacher” are over. Some kids don’t much care about who’s in authority these days. Just ask a policeman who’s in uniform. Part of the blame could lie with the media, but part of the blame could lie with those who have authority and abuse it. Teachers included. And yes, students can be responsible for their own misguided attitudes as well.

Teachers can be — and are — among the greatest contributors to healing for our youth; we are allowed access to their world because of our role in their school lives. I wouldn’t know any Muslim families if I weren’t a teacher. I also wouldn’t know that a sweet Mexican girl’s father died this fall in a car accident if she hadn’t been in my homeroom.

Furthermore, I would never have heard how a gay student feels in a world of her peers if I hadn’t listened to her senior project presentation. In addition, I would be tempted to misinterpret the Black Lives Matter movement if a black student had not taken the time to respectfully explain it to me.

I can’t say that I fully understand all the backgrounds and all the issues my students face, nor do they understand mine. But I do know that trying to understand my students and the fears they face is more valuable than trying to make them flippantly understand, “That’s just the way the world works,” or making them try to fit into the world the way I think they should.

I may be a teacher, but I don’t have all the answers; however, I can try to have understanding. And that’s the one thing I’m compelled to pass along to my students. I also have a front row seat to what is going on in the world, just by observing and listening to my students on a daily basis. Though I may not be looking out at a future Heisman Trophy winner, I could be influencing a future president. That’s when I know I have the best seat in the stadium.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.

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