When the administration at Foxborough High School decided to add AP English Language and Composition to the curriculum, I was asked to teach the course.
The first thing I did was go to Barnes and Noble to purchase a trio of AP English Language and Composition prep books that contained a number of practice exams.
When I sat down to start reading the books, I thought it would be cool to take one of the practice exams, just to see how much I already knew about the kinds of questions that were being asked.
After all, at this point in my career, I had been teaching high school English advanced, honors and college prep courses for decades. I should have been able to pass the exam.
Or so I thought.
About half way through the exam, I dropped my pencil and stopped.
I had to go back and start at square one — by examining Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle (speaker, audience, exigence of the topic) and to learn about the three rhetorical appeals of logos (logic), ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion).
By the end of the summer, I was starting to get more than half of the typical exam questions correct. It had been a very humbling learning experience. And in my mind, the most important learning had just begun.
When the school year started, I will never forget my first AP English Language and Composition class.
While I was greeting the students in the hallway as they were shuffling into the classroom, the English department chair, who for years had been teaching AP English Literature and Composition to seniors, pulled me aside and said, practically hollering at me, “Now, go in there and scare the hell out of those kids. Tell them that they had better be ready to spend a minimum of two hours each night doing the homework. Make sure they know how serious and committed they need to be. Tell them that if they aren’t willing to make the kind of commitment an AP class demands, then they should go down to Guidance immediately and drop the class. Now —- GO —- go in there and set the right TONE.”
One of the most challenging and daunting aspects of teaching this brand new AP class was that it was for a class of juniors —- thus, in the vast majority of cases —- this was the very first AP college-level class the students had signed up for.
So, I entered the room, closed the door, scanned the students’ nervous, yet excited faces and said, “Welcome to the first ever AP English Language and Comp course at FHS. The cool thing is —-all of us are pioneers. All of us are brand new to this type of college level course. Therefore, the best thing we can do is work together each and every day so that we can do our best to master the concepts in time for you to take the AP exam in May.”
“So let me ask the first meaningful question —- what does the term ‘rhetoric’ mean?”
And so —- the maiden voyage began.
Yesterday, while listening to this excerpt from Nick Rallis’ press conference, I was immediately reminded of my first AP class. Listen to what Coach Rallis had to say:
"The cool thing was yesterday, from the coaches to the players, it was complete ownership."— PHNX Cardinals (@PHNX_Cardinals) September 19, 2023
Arizona Cardinals DC Nick Rallis says the entire team is learning and moving forward together from the Week 2 collapse to the New York Giants. #BirdGang pic.twitter.com/es9zSdBIEB
I cannot even being to tell you how impressed and encouraged I was to hear Nick Rallis’ approach and the tone he has been setting for the coaches and players in the room.
No yelling and screaming —- no finger pointing —- no one playing the blame game —- no talking down to the players —- no shaming —- no berating.
Instead —- a full commitment of everyone in the room to taking ownership of their responsibilities —- and working together to relish their successes and to learn from their mistakes.
During my first year as Arlington High School’s varsity basketball head coach (Greater Boston League), when my new team, two games into the season, was turning the ball over left and right versus Cambridge Ringe and Latin’s smothering run-and-jump full court press —- I called a timeout and proceeded to rip into the players for embarrassing themselves.
As the players ran back out to inbound the ball, it quickly dawned on me that this early into the season I had not quite prepared my team as to how to break this unique type of run-and-jump press.
Then I watched my inbounds passer throw an errant inbounds pass right into the hands of a CRL defender who took the ball right to the rim and slammed it home, which had the CRL crowd going absolutely bananas.
I quickly called another timeout.
This time, I apologized to the players. I told them that while we had practiced how to break traditional man and zone full court presses, I had not expected to face this type of run-and-jump press. “This isn’t your fault,” I said.
So, I then started diagramming the proper press breaks and teaching the team what to do.
By the time we played CRL later in the season, after giving the team weeks of proper reps and giving them the challenge of trying to break full court presses against 8 defenders —- the team handled their press so much better to the point where the CRL coach called it off.
The point is —- for a 30 year old NFL defensive coordinator —- —- Nick Rallis is wise beyond his years.
As a teacher and coach, the most valuable lesson I ever learned was doing whatever it took to empower the students to take ownership of the classroom (and playing field) —- so as to drive the curriculum themselves.
The wisest AP teacher I ever met and worked for, Tom Trevisani, legendary English department chair at Arlington High School, had this nugget of wisdom for me when I asked his advice as to how to teach the new AP course —- he told me, “Listen, Mitch, the temptation will be to try to do most of the teaching yourself —- but the best thing you can do, is put the students in small groups, give them 10 questions a day, and have them work out the answers themselves.”
Metaphorically —- putting the ball in the hands of the ones who are the ones taking the tests and playing the game —- can often be the ultimate key to success.
Again —- here is what Nick Rallis said:
“The cool thing was yesterday from the coaches to the players, it was complete ownership. It wasn’t thinking about could have been; coulda, shoulda, woulda. It was how do I have to do my job better so we can learn how to finish that game. Don’t look at it as a ‘woe is me’ type of experience or situation. Look at it as a learning experience to where when you get in that situation you have to finish that game. Hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson for what we have to do to capitalize and come away with a win.”
“That poor second half, we’re going to learn from.”— Bo Brack (@BoBrack) September 19, 2023
Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Nick Rallis says the adversity the team faced against the Giants doesn’t necessarily apply to next week against the Dallas Cowboys.@PHNX_Cardinals | #BirdGang pic.twitter.com/2Qnd7dmeN1
Applied Leadership from the Players (the challenge of playing the next 4 weeks without their bell cow captain, Budda Baker):
“I think we have enough leadership throughout the defense, that there’s not going to be a void in leadership.”— PHNX Cardinals (@PHNX_Cardinals) September 19, 2023
Arizona Cardinals DC Nick Rallis says you can’t replace Budda Baker but the defense is equipped to succeed with him on injured reserve. #BirdGang pic.twitter.com/EWWTl5IOm7
The cool thing is —- Nick Rallis —- the teacher —-gets it.
If you were an NFL defensive player, would you want to play for Nick Rallis?
Victor Dimukeje’s Answer:
#AZCardinals OLB Victor Dimukeje has been impressed with what he’s seen from DC Nick Rallis since his arrival to the desert.— Tyler Drake (@Tdrake4sports) September 18, 2023
"Sometimes you forget it's his first year doing this as defensive coordinator. He's a mastermind and great at what he does." pic.twitter.com/cmjlx1qMDg
Now, what’s your answer —- what are your impressions of Nick Rallis to date?