Editor’s note: Our Marketing Coordinator Shafiq wants to tell you a story about why he loves teaching through his experiences coaching chess.
Three years ago, I was a sophomore in college. I had just gotten back to Alabama from Maryland to go back to school, ready to spend another semester commuting from my mom’s house.
This time, I was a little bit more motivated. My brother had just gotten married, I had a girlfriend, and I was offered a job as a chess teacher*. Life was great.
*While being a chess teacher sounds silly, I taught a 36-week curriculum for three years. It was interesting. I learned so much from my boss who had taught world history for over 20 years.
I’ll never forget my first class. It was at St. Francis Xavier in Mountain Brook, also known as the affluent area in Birmingham. (Do you remember that story recently about the surgeon who walked eight miles in the snowstorm to save a person’s life? Dr. Hrynkiw lives there and his home is beautiful.)
I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I got to the school with a lot of time to spare. I walked in, set up my projector, laptop and chess board and nervously awaited the students.
Only one showed up. He was a 2nd grader and his name was Danny.
Danny was your typical southern boy. You could tell that he had a bright future ahead of him and his life would be filled with love from his family and friends. He also happened to be interested in chess. He wasn’t the best but his enthusiasm made it fun to be around him. He was the kind of kid that if you ever saw him sad, you knew something had gone horribly wrong.
I’ll always remember him because he made it easy for me to become a great teacher. Danny was also the first person I saw when my girlfriend broke up with me a week before my 20th birthday. It’s strange how these things work.
I trembled as I ran through my lesson on the basics of chess. I was a nervous wreck worrying about a student not learning something because I could potentially fail at doing my job.
Danny was okay with this. It was almost like he understood my fears and went with what I was saying.
I finished the lesson after about 50 minutes, we played a 10-minute game of chess, and his mom was in front of the school ready to pick him up.
I took a deep breath. It was over. That wasn’t so bad.
The first week was tough. Five different schools and five different groups of students. It was a challenge that I readily accepted. As the weeks went on, I got more and more comfortable being in front of the students.
I remember beating my boss in a game for the first time. I had to play him in front of a class at Our Lady of Sorrows in Homewood (also known as a “toast game”). I couldn’t even explain to you the confidence I had to go teach the class after that. I just beat someone who’s been playing chess longer than I’ve been alive!
I remember the faces of every student I lost to. I learned more from them than they learned from me in my opinion. Among others, there’s one student who I’ll always talk about. His name was Samson, he was in the 3rd grade, and he was from Cherokee Bend.
Samson was one of those students who was way beyond his years in maturity. His mom would trust him with responsibilities and know she didn’t have to worry because it was Samson. Samson went to the national tournament for chess amateurs in Dallas for players that had a ranking under 1200 (typically for people that hadn’t played in a tournament before). Samson only placed second because the person in first had more points than he did, and they didn’t even play each other.
I was flattered when these same students would tell me that they enjoyed playing me because I never played with the same strategy. Yes, you can be flattered by someone who is 8 years old.
Over three years I taught at over 20 different schools. I saw different kinds of communities. I saw rich areas and other places that weren’t as organized. No matter what the situation was, I did my best to make sure the kids enjoyed the lessons*. Have you ever had a school tell you that you’re a fun teacher? Have you ever smiled so hard it almost made you cry? You feel a sense of meaning in your job and life.
*I feel like colleagues would usually be jealous, but the other teachers were also college students around my age and they enjoyed my candor and passion. I loved them equally, enough to where we all collaborated at the end of our first year and arranged a date night (dinner and a movie) for our boss and his wife. The boss’s exact words, “No one has ever done anything this nice for me in my life.”
That’s the thing. I was in the front of a classroom five days a week. For that hour, we all took a trip away from everything else we were worried about and just played a game of chess. It was beautiful. I may have had a very small taste of the profession, but I’m forever grateful for those moments.