Does Ben Simmons (or Antonio Brown) Remind You Of Any Of Your Students?

In sports, teams have the luxury of giving up on a player; they can either release them or attempt to trade them for a “better” player.

That’s not an option for educators, nor should it be.

The job of an educator is to prepare students for the world ahead of them. Educators are charged to give their all to students, not to give up on them; no matter the challenge that comes along with educating.

Unlike the Philadelphia 76ers, if an educator is tasked with working with a “Ben Simmons” type student, they cannot release or trade that student. By “Ben Simmons” type student, I mean the student who is full of so much potential, academic and otherwise, A’s and B’s come easy to them, and they are aware of behaving as the teacher wishes; they’re the “model” student.

They’re the big fish in a small pond.

Their intelligence has allowed them to coast for a long time and yet when confronted with adversity in the classroom because they’re pushed to exceed what they think they’re capable of, this student responds with a stubborn mindset built on the fear of trying harder and possibly failing or simply due an aversion of doing more.

When confronted with the demands of giving or doing more, this student might respond in various ways. They may be passive aggressive with educators and/or with peers. They may bottle up their frustrations until it spills out in the form of an incident, possibly resulting in disciplinary action. They may even ask to be removed from a particular classroom or school by way of their parents.

Educators cannot simply release or trade this student. Rather they must work with this student; to show them their potential and encourage them that the work to reach it is worth it.

Of course, professional sports and education are two different industries. But if educators aren’t careful, they can begin to sound like the sports media and team executives, referring to students as “problems,” as Ben Simmons is considered as a problem.

Certainly, the Ben Simmons saga is problematic for both he and the Sixers. To resolve it, Ben Simmons demanded a trade from the team, declaring that he will never play for the organization ever again. Simmons is so resolute; he declined an offer by his teammates to visit him.

If we’re honest, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

We can point the finger at Simmons who hasn’t shown himself willing to expand his game night palate, choosing to avoid on the court actions that make him uncomfortable.

Unfortunately for Simmons, his defining NBA moment is passing up a dunk for fear of being fouled and having to make a free throw. However, the Sixers deserve blame as well for misusing Simmons for a better part of his tenure with the team, as explained by former NBA all-star Gilbert Arenas.

In addition, it’s come to light that Simmons’ name was in trade discussions for Nets star James Harden—this after the Sixers said that trading Simmons was out the question. Then of course, there was the press conference answers of Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid.

I understand why the Sixers would want to trade Ben Simmons, particularly if he refuses to commit to being the best version of himself. I understand why fans are frustrated. But has anyone considered that Ben Simmons is only 25 years-old? I ask not because of the many years he has left to play but because he’s a young man thrusted in the public eye, as are many professional athletes, where their worse moment maybe broadcasted for the world to see.

That’s what happened to Simmons.

I’ve heard pundits and talking heads call out Simmons for his poor decision making and his lack of self-awareness to justify their anger and frustrations with him. Fans have done the same, if not worse, on the internet and talk radio. Some educators do the same thing with students. Some educators say the same things about their students after they (the educators) failed to put the student in the best positions to succeed, failed to partner with parents and the community to craft an individual plan for that child, and failed to take inventory of their relationship with that young person.

Some educators, like many team executives and fans, expect a child and/or young adult to make decisions as a fully mature adult would. But they’re ignorant of the fact that the portion of the brain responsible for rational thinking and decision making doesn’t fully develop until an individual’s mid to late twenties.

That’s just happening for Ben Simmons, meanwhile some fully “mature” adults continue making piss poor decisions, but I digress.

Educators must ask themselves, if they recognized the gifts of that student as to give that child confidence necessary to be pushed; did they provide that student with different methods of assessing their learning for all to ascertain learning growth; did they teach that student in a culturally responsive way, where pedagogy was fueled by what they needed versus what we wanted to do?

I do not believe that educators deserve all the blame when a child doesn’t reach their full potential, nor should they receive all the praise when the child does. What I am saying is that educators must be reflective about their practice for their own improvement and for student learning. Blaming student underachievement on their life outside of the classroom, their upbringing, or their neighborhood environment is both low hanging fruit and racist when dealing with Black and Brown students.

For some, their anger with a perceived entitlement displayed by Ben Simmons harkens back to the racial undertones of criticizing rich Black athletes who are labeled unappreciative of their ability to make millions in a white supremacist society, but I digress. 

It’s not outside factors, but rather inside factors explain educational disadvantages facing Black and Brown students. In other words, schools, or the adults within, are at fault. Schools suspend, expel, retain, assign to special education, and deny entrance into gifted/talented and AP courses for Black students – much coming as a result of teacher discretion.

Unfortunately, trading Ben Simmons may be best for everyone considering how sour the relationship between he and the Sixers has become. Educators would do themselves, and their students, a service by learning from this situation. Releasing or trading a student is not an option. All children have the potential to be great. It’s the educator’s job both push them to greatness while mindful that young people deserve grace and space fueled by a love for them.

… and if an educator is absent the love necessary to educate a child, maybe they ought to be released or traded.


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