It’s So Simple, Yet So Powerful

Janet Carter
Executive Director, Coaching Corps

For me, it was a substitute teacher in my second grade class whose name I cannot remember but whose impact in one short week still resonates all these years later.  She was my Game Changer. She will never know the impact she had on me in one short week of my life. But in that brief time, she taught me that I mattered; that I should be proud of what makes me unique.

I had just come to the US from England and had joined this Detroit second grade class in the middle of the fall semester. The kids were relentless, making fun of my English saddle shoes and school uniform, my accent, and the fact that I called things by different names. The regular teacher did nothing to intervene and so for several weeks, a group of girls would purposely tear my stockings to bits at every recess. I was terrified, missing my extended family in Wales, and certain that everything was my fault for being different.  I began to see myself as the kids saw me…..an oddball who was not worthy of their friendship.

And then the substitute teacher showed up.

Noticing the teasing, she took an interest in me, asking about my life in England and about my perceptions of America. The next day she asked that I tell the class about England and about my family in Wales. And she invented a game where my fellow students had to guess what the words that I used for things meant here in this country.  A biscuit was actually a cookie.  The boot of a car was the trunk.  The winner was assigned to be my friend at recess.

At recess that day, my stockings survived. Instead of taunting, the kids started asking me questions about England. I began to see myself as someone who mattered. Someone who had a unique self that even I could like.

The lesson in this story is that kids learn who they are through what others, especially adults, choose to see in them.

Some of us are lucky to have parents who teach us to believe in our best selves; who become our biggest champions. For these kids, it is still important for them to be surrounded by other adults who reinforce that belief.

But it is even more important for those of us who don’t have that parental support.  Changing parental work patterns are transforming childhood for growing numbers of kids, particularly those whose parents no longer earn enough to lift their families out of poverty and as a result are working longer and longer hours. Kids are spending critical periods of the day with adults other than their parents.

The quality of these interactions can change the game for kids, positively or negatively. At Coaching Corps, our volunteer coaches are trained to see the best in every child, and then to help the kids see it in themselves. Coaches can nurture the potential in every young person by helping them to recognize talents that they didn’t know were there. Through a season of sports, our coaches can become game changers for the kids who need it the most.

The research is clear and undisputed.  A positive, affirming relationship with a caring adult is the most important thing we can give young people to help them deal with the hand that life has dealt them.

The good news is that each of us, no matter what role we play in a child’s life; teacher, neighbor, uncle, aunt, sports coach, a member of a faith community, can change the game for a child simply by believing in them and helping them believe in their best self.

Like my substitute teacher did for me.

And it doesn’t have to take long.  I only saw that teacher for a week.

So ask yourself today: who was your game changer? We all have one.

Now, most importantly, ask yourself; “whose game changer am I going to be?

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