It’s safe to say that, basketball fan or not, hearing the news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death will go down as one of those I remember where I was moments that so often etches itself in our memory. His passing was absurdly unfathomable. 40 years old, one of the greatest basketball ambassadors of all time, and beginning to inspire the world beyond the talents he demonstrated on a court. It is a sometimes unfortunate circumstance we, as teachers, find ourselves in – having to pull from some of the darkest realities of contemporary culture in order to teach our students. Fortunately, Kobe Bryant left us with our own learning to do. Below are three things Kobe Bryant taught us about becoming better teachers.
1. Be relentless
Kobe Bryant did not just want to be good. His goal wasn’t to be better than all his peers. Kobe Bryant wanted to be the best ever. Go on YouTube and search clips of former teammates and competitors talking about the man’s work ethic. At the gym hours before a team practice in order to work on things for an upcoming opponent or working out at four or five in the morning during the off-season. Yes, he was talented. But he became one of the greats because his drive was relentless. We may take work home to stay on top of a class or work late hours to prepare a lesson. But all that is so that we can do our job well – not excellent. Staying ahead is, at most, all-star level and, at its least, merely status quo. To be a Kobe of teaching, we must set our own expectations high and be relentless in our practice, delivery, pedagogy, and reflection – day after day, “in season” or out.
2. Be the sponge and then be the sieve
At Kobe Bryant’s televised celebration of life, Michael Jordan delivered one of the most touching farewells I have ever heard. The oft private Jordan told personal stories about Kobe that none of the public had ever heard. He talked about how aggravating Kobe was! Phone calls at 4 a.m. “Stupid” questions, as MJ put it, as well as minuscule inquisitions about everything from basketball to success, failure, finance, family and life. Listening to Jordan jokingly provide the audience with some levity under an utterly blue situation, I learned two things about my job as a teacher. I must be a sponge for knowledge and be intentional about the profession that I have taken on. I need to ask more questions to the people I look up to in education, regardless of how stupid those questions seem to them. And then, like Kobe did during the last decade of his life, I must be willing to pass on that knowledge to younger teachers and future educators who want to be the best at their calling. The sponge at first and the sieve once I think I have it figured out is what Kobe taught us.
3. Keep things in perspective
When it first really sunk in that Kobe Bryant had actually passed on, I thought about life. Not just my life, but my father’s and family’s lives. And life in general. That night in a group chat one of my friends sporadically texted, “I love y’all man. For real.” The next few texts that followed were grown men who had grown to become close friends telling each other that we loved each other and if anyone was going through anything or needed anything don’t wait. In teaching, we often get so upset at things that will never even matter at the end of the day. Who got what supervision duty or who got assigned what course to teach. We bicker about some real trivial shit as teachers, I gotta be honest. Becoming more appreciative of the fact that we get paid to give back to the next generation and have relative autonomy in doing so is something we ought to consider every single day, regardless of how much of a grind it becomes. Because Kobe taught us, too, to appreciate the grind.
Pulling together a bunch of Kobe Bryant’s most motivational quotes and using them in your classroom will more than likely keep the kids engaged for another day and might build on a few things you’ve really been trying to deepen within your classroom. And that art lesson using Kobe’s jersey or likeness is probably needed in your school, because representation on the walls in our buildings does matter. But sometimes we teachers need to take what happens in the world and utilize it for our own learning. Surely, Kobe Bryant’s life and legacy is one of those instances. Rest in Peace, Bean.
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