I'm a teacher.
Every time I've interviewed for a teaching position I've been asked what I like best about being a teacher. In a way, it's a kind of sneaky question. Because it's really trying to uncover what kind of students I like and what kind I don't like. The good principals use this question to pinpoint a teacher who works to reach all kids. Bad principals use this question to figure out how many students will be sent to his office and how much extra work each teacher will require.
But when you get right down to it, there are so many kids that make teaching worthwhile. There's the star kids who go out of their way to do an awesome job on everything. There's the kids having a hard time who work and work and work and finally — FINALLY — get it. There are the ones with learning disabilities, who will never be able to read easily, but bit by bit master just a smidge more. There are the trouble makers who still manage to be likeable enough that you buy them a can of root beer when they make it through a whole week without standing on their desks acting like a monkey.
And so forth, in a million different varieties.
Sometimes, after a hard week, when I'm as exhausted as I've ever been in my life — exhaustion from teaching is a different kind of animal, it can just leave you emotionally and mentally drained. You don't need sleep (you have enough rest), you don't need rest (your body's just fine, its not like I've been lifting 50 lb. bags of concrete all day), you just need all humanity — particularly your own kids — to cease to exist for a couple nights while you listen to the stars move across the sky — anyway, when this kind of exhaustion hits I casually wish all the kids could be superstar students. It would be so easy.
When I'm sitting with a kid with a learning disability, helping him go through step after arduous step to accomplishing a task, while I have 3 needy kids tugging my shirt (the kids who can't seem to color a picture without bombarding me with requests for help they don't really need), two troublemakers jumping up and down, one kid in the corner growling and pretending he's a dinosaur, a trio of girls passing notes, another trio of girls arguing about who isn't going to be whose friend, two boys hitting each other in the arm as hard as they can to see who flinches first — it's times like these I feel like wringing my hands in frustration and cry out to the gods why all the kids can't quietly do their assignment like the 8-10 superstar kids, quietly sitting at their desks, doing their absolute best, and always cheerfully following directions.
It would be so easy.
But honestly, those times don't happen very often. There's too much to enjoy, too many kids learning and working, and ultimately accomplishing what they can.
So what does this have to do with our beloved Utah Jazz?
Well, if they were a student I think it's safe to say that this year's iteration isn't the superstar kid — the one for whom every success is simple and easy, the one who not only does every assignment well, but does it with a fastidious flair for making people stand back in awe, wondering how a young kid could accomplish so much, so well, and so easily.
No, this year's Jazz reminds me of someone else.
The brilliant kid who can't stay out of trouble, who can't remember to do his homework, who is equally likely to spend a day in my doghouse as being star student of the day.
There's no question our team is talented. I've written it before, and I'm writing it again: the Jazz have the most talented primary roster (top 8-9 guys on the team) in the league. But putting it all together will be a challenge.
We were all fooled by the preseason. We saw all the little things that still needed to come together, but they seemed so much further along than we had expected, they seemed to get along so well, and we knew their skill sets complemented each other so well.
So when the disastrous first two games hit, we all left stunned, wondering how it could have crashed down so suddenly.
I think I've figured it out.
Imagine that brilliant, but always in trouble kid. To help him get his head on straight, the teacher took him out of the real-world class setting, and put him in a more isolated environment, maybe in a special group of 5-6 superstar, perfect students — just to help this kid learn what it takes to do things right.
And he responded well. Better than the teacher had hoped. Instantly, he was doing great work, his behavior was wonderful, and he was achieving the kind of stuff he had always been capable of. Every now and then a bad habit surfaced, but he was able to stifle it almost immediately and it seemed the bad habits would be extinct in just a little more time.
So the teacher put him back in the regular classroom, expecting everything wonderful to continue. But it didn't. Back to the real-life setting, the brilliant, always in trouble kid reverted back to all his bad habits. And back in the doghouse he went.
That was our Jazz. The preseason was the artificially easy setting where doing it right was easy. The opponents wouldn't be playing as hard, the stakes were lower, etc. It was just a little bit easier to play the right way and let new habits overcome the bad. And we, as the fans, marveled how easy the team was coming together, marveled at how small the flaws seemed, and rejoiced at how easily and quickly it seemed the flaws would disappear completely.
But when the regular season started, when the opponents came out full-throttle, when the stakes were high again and every little action mattered — well, the bad habits took over again.
It will take some time.
And we, as fans, need to adjust our expectations. This team won't be the superstar kid, for whom excelling is so easy. It will be the brilliant troublemaker, full of genius, potential, and a lot of bad habits that need to be overcome.
Our team will probably be in our doghouse plenty of times this season. It will also probably leave us speechless those times it all comes together. And just like the brilliant troublemakers I've taught, either option can happen on any given day. We will probably wonder "is this the same team we watched two days ago?" a lot this season — sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a bad.
Back to the brilliant troublemakers I've known.
A few never put it together, and it's very sad to see the brilliance and potential crash and burn.
Many struggle their entire lives, always teetering back and forth between doing things right and screwing up.
But most finally figure it out. Most come out with their head on straight and doing things right. Most meet their potential. It was always an exhausting process, both for the teacher and the kid. There were a lot of bad days along the way. But bit by bit the good days start outweighing the bad, the good habits overcome the bad, and the brilliance finally shines through.
And inevitably, those kids, those brilliant troublemakers who struggled so hard to just put their head on straight, with such spread between the good and the bad days — those kids are the ones I remember the most. And in a lot of ways, those kids are the ones I love to teach the most.
Hello, Utah Jazz, circa 2010-11.