When you’ve taught secondary education for any length of time, you learn there are just some class periods that are consistently a bit (or maybe a LOT) more challenging than others. Three different years, I have I had multiple students twice in the same day for different classes.  This brought me to the realization that the time of day and who they are grouped with both help determine whether it is Jeckyll or Hyde who walks through the door.

This weekend, I realized there is another profession that can relate to this problem, and they probably have more in common with teachers than I see from my limited perspective– referees.

My son had a basketball game.  He plays in a non-competitive recreational league.  It’s the first time in the five years he has chosen to play that he’s actually enjoyed it, which speaks volumes about the people he encounters there, and it makes this mom pretty happy.

However, there is one team in the league that I hate to watch them compete against. The games between the two have all been the intense kind sports fans ordinarily want to watch, because they are the most closely aligned in skill level among all the competitors in the league, and each has been a nail-biter that has come down to the last seconds. But the matchups between the two have a tendency to get out of control.  Tempers flare on the court and in the stands.  I clench my teeth most of the time and watch the clock count down through at least half the proceedings, because watching the action is too stressful.

When we faced them this time, I walked into the building at the same time as what I perceive to be the most hot-headed player on the rival team. Let’s just say he and his mom were not getting along at that moment.

I knew this would be poison in the stew.

The referees called a tight game.  An exceedingly tight game.  (Okay, it was actually an over-the-top, I think you hallucinated that foul type game.)  Parents were angry and a few were asked to leave the gym. Afterward, I heard some talking with their children, and I want to hope they will someday regret how very much those conversations undermined having respect for authority, owning your own choices, and valuing other people who are just trying to do their best. (I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that moment of enlightenment to occur, but a girl can hope!)

Right after hearing one of these exchanges, I approached the referee and thanked him.  I said I knew there had been controversial calls and that they had really struggled to keep the game under control, but I appreciated the hard work they had just contributed in keeping my child safe. (I might add– these are volunteer referees as part of a church ministry. They took a lot of grief for their kindness.)

It really is a mild-mannered league.  The mentoring and sportsmanship are both great– except between these two groups of boys.  It must be a major shift as the officials work to do their jobs.  I can certainly relate.

As a teacher, some hours are just easier.  Easier to teach. Easier to manage. Easier to… like.  There.  I said it.

Those days when the challenging ones are collectively wearing their Mr. Hyde persona, I run a game just as tight as the one the refs called this weekend.  I don’t enjoy it, and I know that while the clock runs down that particular hour, it seems unreasonable, but I have to be mindful of the potential for intentional fouls- physical, emotional, and verbal- and try to prevent them.  It’s not the world’s best learning environment, which makes me sad, but it’s better than letting it degenerate into chaos. I remind myself- Maslow before Bloom.

People “in the stands” don’t always appreciate the effort that goes into keeping a safe environment, and the players don’t often tend to feel much love for it either.

I don’t ever wake up in the morning wondering who I can make miserable through my strictness. I don’t do it as a result of dislike.  Quite the opposite.  I do it because it is what I  want to have done for my own child. I want to send him into the game of life- or school, as the case may be– and know people are looking out for his safety.

Sometimes the lessons we learn at school are not about academics, but about how to be okay when others are not okay and how to manage ourselves in a less than ideal environment.  They might be about learning to tell when someone is dosing out some tough love. Most importantly, maybe those lessons just might be how we as individuals can contribute to making a bad situation better.