As a marathon runner, I go through a lot of shoes. I need to update my shoes at least once every three months. Unfortunately, as many friends and family would attest, I also have a fairly sizable “every day shoe” collection as well. All of these shoes can get costly. So, as a middle school teacher, I try to combat my shoe addiction by doing extra jobs in and out of school. One of these jobs is lunch duty – a job outsiders usually consider perhaps the cruelest form of punishment an adult can endure. On most days, these outsiders aren’t that far off.
However, some days being in a room full of 6th graders is actually entertaining, and even enlightening in one way or another. Yesterday- just over a week into the new year- was no exception. Having busted two boys for the crime of throwing grapes and Doritos, I was stationed next to these offenders at the middle “naughty” table. These two boys were minimal offenders, but we like to make a point early on in the year. As adults we realize that to 6th graders throwing food is almost a natural instinct, and at times maybe even self defense, but we want them to know that if they do it, they will to pay the price.
So, I had the two boys sit at the middle table to learn their lesson and hopefully set an example. One of the boys was way too into his tacos to talk to me. The other, a nice, personable kid, apparently decided he wasn’t going to let the middle table stop him from having a conversation. He began by asking me if I knew who he was. When I told him I didn’t, he informed me that his dad was pretty involved in our school’s athletics and as a result (even though he was just a 6th grader) he “knew A LOT of teachers, athletes, high schoolers, and students.”
The boy then began talking football with me. He started by telling me a bunch of technical facts, to which I just smiled and nodded because I really have no clue about the game. He then got into specifics about his team and his talents. His personal summary went something like this, “I love the game. I’m actually not that strong now, but I will be someday. That doesn’t matter though, because I really understand the game. I know the strategies, plus I am really fast.” Then, he paused and said, “The other kids call me a Try Hard.”
I wasn’t sure if I heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat, “They call you a what?”
“A Try Hard.”
My initial reaction was to tell him this was really cool, but then I noticed he didn’t look all that thrilled with it. “Wait, are they ripping on you when they say this?”
The boy’s expression answered my question- of course they were ripping. They were mean middle schoolers. Middle schoolers generally don’t come up with deep, meaningful nicknames aimed at each other. Yet, ironically, I realized that these kids had in fact, inadvertently come up with one that had the reverse effect. An insult that was actually a secret compliment. I had to share this fact with my new friend.
“Do you know what? It’s really cool to be a Try Hard. Those kids don’t know it, but they are actually giving you a compliment. Being a Try Hard is the coolest thing in the world, because by trying hard you will know more about the game because you had to figure it out.” I wanted to add that he’d probably get a lot more job opportunities in the future with a try hard attitude… but I decided that perspective might be a bit heavy for the first week of middle school.
The kid sort of smiled and I think he got it, in a 6th grader kind of way and then proceeded to talk about football again. I continued to revisit our conversation all day, and thought about how this nickname was actually quite an ingenious concept. Whether we are trying to run five miles, a marathon, or just get through life, the best thing we can all ever strive to be is a bunch of Try Hards- great at some aspects, okay at others, and striving to improve (someday) in the areas that we struggle the most.
So, friends…always remember that life really isn’t about perfection or getting things right the first time. It’s about being out there, in the game, trying hard every single day. And most importantly, it’s not how far or fast you run…but how hard you try.
by abbey algiers