by James Yoos, 2010 Washington State Teacher of the Year
First period is finishing up, and students have a short break between morning classes at Bellingham High. Several student athletes come into my room for a quick injury evaluation and consult regarding their plan for injury recovery.
One student athlete, Katy, rolled her ankle during the previous afternoon’s soccer practice. I’ve worked with Katy before with ankle issues, so I rib her a bit about not wearing her ankle brace during practice. The ankle evaluation appears to reveal a minor sprain/strain, so we decide to wrap and ice it to help with the pain.
As I wrap Katy’s ankle, we chat about how the team is doing this season, and I get the chance to hear about the challenges and celebrations of her year. She shares with me her experiences in her classes, and I find out she’s nervous about an upcoming exam. She feels she’s spent a fair amount of time preparing, but is flustered and describes feeling “all over the place” with the content. I ask her what about the exam has her nervous and what’s she doing to prepare. We take a moment to link her current anxiety to an experience on the soccer field like taking a penalty kick. We’ve talked about visualization techniques for high anxiety times in soccer, so I suggest that she try the same technique for her exam- using deep breathing to help herself relax and clear her head before, and then visualizing what she expects on the exam and seeing herself be successful. I share with her the experiences I’ve had when unsurmountable tests become exciting challenges through a shift in mindset. I leave her to continue to ice and think about what we’ve talked about while I work with another student athlete.
Six years ago, I was asked to take over the anatomy and physiology class at Bellingham High. Around the same time, I started to fill in at home sporting events as first aid support. Coaches needed help with pregame taping, and I offered my assistance. Prior to becoming a teacher 18 years ago, I explored the idea of going into the field of medicine and got certified and worked as an EMT and later as a massage therapist. As word got around that I was capable, demand grew. Soon I became the point person for injury assessment, treatment, and recovery for our high school athletes.
Interest in my anatomy and physiology class was strong, but I knew it could be better it if students were able to receive some hands on training in athletic injuries. Student athletes had expressed interest in finding out more about injury assessment and treatment, so I presented to my principal and athletic director the possibility of blending the anatomy and physiology class into a CTE introduction to sports medicine. Students would still learn about the human body systems covered in anatomy and physiology, but they’d learn through the lens of injury prevention, assessment, and treatment. Students would get practical experience helping me out during home athletic events. Interest in the course grew dramatically, as a broader array of students interests were met. Class sections grew. As word travelled to other high schools in the district, sports medicine classes started at the other high schools. Next year, nine sections of sports medicine will be offered across the district.
At the end of the day, Katy checks back in with me and lets me know that her exam went well. She tells me she used some of the visualizing techniques before the exam. It turns out that she really just wanted to hear some support heading into it and thanks me for taking the time to talk.
Student athletes come to me for injury assessment and treatment, but I get a sense that it’s also about coming to a safe space and being cared for. It’s not uncommon for students to come in to share their latest bump or bruise, grab a bag of ice, and gradually reveal what’s really on their mind. They share the challenges of their day, conflicts that arise, and celebrations that they need someone to know about.
Students are seeking connections with adults. Simply taking the time to slow down, listen, and look at their “injury” may be enough to let students know that the adults in the building care and are interested in what’s going on in their lives beyond their classroom. We can’t all tape an ankle, but we can all provide that moment in between our official duties to connect, listen, and see our students.
James Yoos is the 2010 Washington State Teacher of the Year, a 2015-16 Washington State Science Fellow, and National Board Certified Teacher of biology, chemistry, and sports medicine at Bellingham High School in Bellingham, Washington.
Amy Abrams, Kent