My student leaves in 10 days to go to the Worlds Schools Debating Championships in Turkey. For people who aren’t in the debate community, Worlds is the highest level of debate you can reach, essentially the Olympics of the debate world. I started the debate club four years ago because I thought that students needed an academic outlet, not for any of my students to reach Worlds. I remember the first ever tournament I coached at. We had 17 teams and ended up having top 3 results along with top 3 speaking results. I figured that was that. The students would stay in the province and might use debate in their other classes.
I never thought that I would be able to say “That is my student. I coached her.” But I can. They won Jr Nationals two years ago, and were runners up at Sr Nationals last year. Saskatchewan had never placed higher than 40th at Jr Nationals and 25th at Senior Nationals before my team.
But it’s not all about me. It’s about them. It’s about a 16 year old girl born in a refugee camp in Africa. It’s about watching a community come together. It’s about watching students who have said “I’m not smart enough to do that.” and watch them spend HOURS researching a topic they care about. It’s about watching a student who can’t speak English spend a summer getting tutored so he can compete. It’s about having parents coming up to me and say that they never thought their kid could compete against Canadian kids before let alone beat them.
When she finally heads to Turkey, I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep for three weeks until she’s back. She’s the youngest on the team, the only ESL student, the only ethnic minority, the only religious minority and the only student from a public school system.
I don’t really have the words to describe my feelings about these students. There are days I’m so mad at them, I want to tie them up and leave them to their own devices but there are other days that I would love to sit there and spend weekends chaperoning them. But in the end, it’s not about how I feel or how well I do, it’s about THEM.