Friday, May 14, 2010

Teaching Good Sportsmanship.

B is participating in the chess tournament at school. While he has lagged in a few areas of academic development, the kid totally rocks at spatial reasoning. He is a first grader, and this year the chess tournament was not divided K-2 and 3-5, there is one tournament K-5. J volunteers every week of the year in the chess club, teaching all of the kids how to play and helping them out, a little extra time with our boys each week.

Winning the tournament is not our goal for B. Frankly, in first grade, it would probably be unrealistic. We want him to love the game, flex his brain muscles a bit, and have some fun. Every week, before the tournament, we review our goals: Play as smart as you can. Be kind to your opponent. Be gracious regardless of the outcome - you are there for fun.

The tournament is run by the teacher assigned to the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG). It is a somewhat ironic placement because, while she is really enthusiastic, she isn't so much "gifted". As such, the TAG program is notorious for being "more" stuff, rather than "more interesting" stuff for the TAG kids. This is what we've experienced with Z in the program and one of many reasons we are on the verge of homeschooling Z next year.

The TAG teacher was unable to figure out how to run a double elimination round-robin. So, J made a diagram for her showing how the brackets work. She thought that was too complicated and couldn't understand the winner and loser brackets, so decided on a double-elimination point system instead. Two losses and your out, but the point leader still standing at the end takes all. A reasonable alternative.

At six-years-old and in first grade, B is having a great run. The first week, he played a disappointed third grader that wanted to play someone older, so she would be "challenged" - B beat her. The second week, he faced a fifth-grader. This fifth-grader was cocky about facing a first grader at the start of the game - and started trash talking. B hasn't ever really heard "trash-talk" before. Then, when B started to gain the advantage, the fifth-grader (let's call him Joe) started trying to cajole B into making foolish moves: "you don't want to do that", "watch out, probably not a good idea", "oh, yeah - move that one". Finally, B was getting flustered, so J pointed out to him that he should play his own game and not let someone else manipulate him. A few moves later, B won by check-mate. J explained the circumstance to the TAG teacher, and mentioned that she really needs to talk to Joe about table talk, because it is really not allowed in chess.

Joe went to his mom (a teacher in the school) to complain that B's dad helped B win. Joe's mom went to the TAG teacher to complain. TAG teacher says "Oh, I'll talk to him about not helping his child". TAG teacher did not point out that Joe's behavior was unsportsmanlike. Then, she relented and while B kept the points for the win, she gave Joe a bye for the game that he lost. This solution is not great, but perhaps reasonable in that J did speak to B during the game. This would have been fine if accompanied by some sincere messages about fair play and honor.

But, it doesn't end there. The bitching has continued, Joe's mom has continued her relentles complaining that Joe was unfairly beaten due to J's assistance. So, this morning, the teacher announced that she has given both Joe and B wins for the game.

Since then, B has defeated a third grader and another fifth-grader, both by check-mate. B is tied for first in the tournament - with Joe.

This leaves me with so many questions:
  • Do we wonder why Americans have a reputation for bad sportsmanship and whining?
  • What kind of message does this send to children about honor and sportsmanship?
  • How can we still respect this teacher for not (at least) making a point about fair play?
  • Will B still like chess after this?


kherbert said...

You all made a couple of mistakes.

J should have addressed the boy's bad sportsmanship. Giving him one chance to correct his behavior.

2nd warning he should have been required to forfeit the game.

1st complaint from Mom should have resulted a nice quiet talk about the boy's unsportsman like behavior.

2nd complaint or Mom trash talking should have resulted in the boy being suspended for 2 weeks. (honestly my principal would at least have had a conversation at this point if not kicked the child out and written up the teacher)

Further complaints about standard rule enforcement should have resulted in him being kicked out for the rest of the year.

She and her son are being bullies. Next year I suggest that a statement of good sportsmanship be drawn up. List behaviors in positive way but also list consequences for violating it. Make it pretty severe

1. Warning
2. Forfeit current game
3. 1 week suspension

This would be 1 day. A warning in week 2 doesn't mean a slip up 3 weeks later causes a forfeit.

TK's are either dreams or nightmares. We have 2 current TK's. Yesterday it was on announcemnts that all computers had to be shut down after school due to an upgrade. I went in to check the computer lab after school - and the TK's were in there shutting down all but 2 computers. They played games on those computers until our meeting was over.

A few years ago we had 2 that ran riot through the halls yelling and screaming. To the point we couldn't hear our tutorial students. We got in trouble for telling them to be quiet.

K said...

kherbert -

All good points.

If J volunteers next year, there will have to be a framework in place. As a parent volunteer, however, I don't think that he has/had the "power" to force a forfeit, if he had, he probably would have followed more closely to your suggestions.

On the discussions between the mom and the TAG teacher... they are both employed by the school (each teachers in different areas). So, I suspect the TAG teacher's giving in is political in some way. However, this does not excuse the mom from enabling her son's bad behavior.

None of this is the end of the world, but I hate to see unsportsmanlike conduct rewarded.

On the plus side, B doesn't seem to care too much and is just enjoying the games.

K said...

Final report:

B took second place in the chess tournament.

The winner was a fifth grader that is quite good. B lost to him with grace and a smile.

He shares second place with the child that he beat (whose loss is being called a "win"). He is fine with that, and glad to be in second place. So, he wins for both skills and attitude.

The other child in second place loses - he learned that whining will get you an unfair advantage and helps you succeed.

Interestingly, the child that shares second place with B was greatly relieved that there would not be a run-off match to definitively decide second place. He seemed aware that he was not likely to win a rematch either.

Additional note, I have since taken up chess and have been beaten two of two games by my six year old - I couldn't be prouder of him.