They Don’t Just Teach
A profile on a variety of teachers and their sports.
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Though to many of us our teachers are one-sided individuals who only focus on their job of teaching, many teachers have exciting lives outside of school, and they spend time participating in common sports like biking, and some rare sports, like curling and rock climbing.
Thomas Miner: Rock Climbing
Thomas Miner is a rock climber, though many of his physics students would never realize it. His rock climbing does not interfere at all with his teaching; instead, Miner described, “It helps teaching because I blow off steam, I get to tire myself out, so I sleep better, and I have something to look forward to after school; it just helps in every way.”
Miner was introduced to rock climbing when he was five years old by his parents, who had been introduced to the sport by a friend. However, he never became involved, and to his great disappointment, stopped for a while. Miner believed he could have succeeded in rock climbing due to his strong fingers and flexibility.
Rock climbing is very personal for Miner: he described, “[It’s just] you and the wall, and it’s just you and your body trying to figure out how to do these very subtle kinds of things.” At first, the wall is like a “problem that seems literally impossible the first time you touch it, but after a little while, becomes doable, and then becomes easy,” Miner said.
That progression of hard to doable to easy is “unlike any other activity [he has] done,” Miner said. Despite Miner’s love for the rock climbing community, Miner acknowledged that “it can be a very toxically masculine place sometimes.” Occasionally, men hit on women or react to a woman climbing in a way they wouldn’t with a male climber.
John Avallone: Curling
Not many people know about curling, a sport in which players slide stones across the ice toward a target area, since it is rarely apparent in our lives in crowded New York. Physics teacher John Avallone, however, knows of the only curling club in the city at Lefrak Center. He plays competitively, but he joked that he’s “never going to the nationals. The people that go to the Olympics are on a totally different level than anyone [he’s] ever played with.”
Avallone’s favorite aspect of curling is sweeping, the action that changes the stone’s path after it has been pushed on the ice because “it feels like you’re doing something. You can really exert some pressure on the ice; you get the stone to do something a little different than it would have done,” he explained. Sweeping is necessary because “if your teammate doesn’t do exactly what they hoped to do, then you can sweep their stone and hopefully make it closer to what you were really trying to get to happen,” he said.
As a physics teacher, Avallone is perfect for curling, since there are “all sorts of physics you can think about,” he said. However, Avallone explained that instead of helping him curl better, teaching gives him something to think about while curling. He said, “A lot of my teammates expect me to know what to do because I’m a physics teacher. I don’t know what to do [...] It’s hard to throw that stone at just the right speed, but I know that there is a right speed.”
Kate Kincaid: Tennis
Kate Kincaid, an English teacher, grew up as an athletic child on the swim team and played softball and soccer on the side. Her parents, two tennis players, introduced her to tennis, but she did not fall in love with the sport. Throughout high school, Kincaid continued her athletic career with ballet but stopped to control her expectations. “I realized that I was not going to become a prima ballerina as I wanted, and that became abundantly clear,” she said. In and after college, Kincaid did not play any sports but continued to stay healthy through regular runs and visits to the gym.
Kincaid was reintroduced to tennis by a friend after her two twin sons were born. She recounted, “My friend was like, ‘come out of the house, play tennis,’ and I played tennis for the first time in a while, and I was like, ‘I love it,’ and my friend was there, and we started playing all day every day to the point that everyone got angry with us because we were spending all of our money on tennis.” From this initial introduction, Kincaid’s tennis career jumped to a whole new level; she took lessons throughout the whole summer and began to rapidly improve.
Kincaid now plays on tennis teams throughout the city and travels through New York City and Long Island for mixed-doubles and women’s singles matches. She is not only playing her matches, but also winning them—Kincaid has gone to sectionals, regionals, and nationals.
But Kincaid’s tennis career is not all fun and games. She described, “The worst part [of tennis] is the team drama. It is unimaginable that the adults behave this way. There are captains who try to get you on their teams, and you try and keep your ratings as low as possible. You want to be so much better than your rating so that you beat the other teams [with the same ratings].”
Despite this, Kincaid still loves tennis because of the endless possibilities and chances to improve. She explained, “The thing I like the best is that for the first time since I have been getting older, I feel like I can still learn new things […] I am getting better and that is exciting to progress.”
Tennis has had a positive effect on Kincaid’s teaching. She explained that in addition to giving her energy, the ability to perform during high-intensity points and matches has provided her with confidence and capability to deal with pressure while teaching.
Minkyu Kim: Biking and Golf
Minkyu Kim also grew up as an athletic child, playing baseball, basketball, and tennis, slightly to his parents’ dismay because they wanted him to study and play piano at home. But these expectations did not work for Kim. He described, “I just loved being outside and running around. [...] I was such a hyperactive kid that they were okay with me getting out of the house and spending all my energy out there.”
Kim played on the tennis team in high school but did not continue with basketball or baseball. Kim stopped playing the sports because of his physique. “When you play those kinds of competitive sports, people grow and take it really seriously. I was undersized, and I just wasn’t prepared to take things that seriously,” he relayed.
Though Kim’s parents were not originally enthusiastic about his interest in sports, they enjoy golf, a game that Kim picked up in order to be closer to and spend more time with his parents doing something that all of them enjoy. Kim elaborated, “For me, it’s a way of spending an afternoon with them. It’s an activity we can do together; that’s why I picked it up, and it’s actually really fun.”
Kim is no longer hyperactive, but he still feels the need to move around and experience the outdoors. To accomplish this, Kim bikes to school, a way to avoid the “soul-crushing” traffic of his commutes and also to be “more aware of the movement of the city and how alive it is,” he said.
He bikes for his health as well. He explained, “It’s an added element of being conscious of my body and what I’m doing to it, what comes in and what goes out, and just the condition of it. It’s given me more energy. It’s brought me closer to my family and my city.”
Daisy Sharaf: Rock Climbing
As a physics teacher, Daisy Sharaf spends much of her life talking about the movement of rocks. But outside of the classrooms, she climbs rocks, spending time at rock climbing gyms around the city. She discovered the sport around five years ago; she explained, “[My friend and I] were looking for something we could do together as an activity, and we wanted to do something inside, so we’d heard about inside climbing. We went to Brooklyn Boulders and tried it out, and I really, really liked it.” Sharaf said she found that she enjoyed “the problem solving and the movement” of climbing and decided to continue with the activity.
Sharaf originally thought that she would not succeed at climbing but soon discovered that, owing to her strong fingers and light and flexible frame, she was naturally good. However, Sharaf had to get stronger in order to improve. For her, power is difficult to develop, and she was forced to train hard. Her hard work paid off, and she won a free membership for a year at her gym at a climbing competition.
Sharaf enjoys climbing three or four times a week, even getting “super grumpy if [she] can’t climb for a while,” she said. Even teachers need breaks, though climbing can be tiring and “hard on the fingers,” so it is less of a rest and more of a sweat-inducing enterprise.
Another drawback of the activity is that climbing can be “kind of cliquish” with people willing to “roll their eyes at newcomers,” she said. Despite this, climbers can be a social activity where you meet new people.
Sharaf appreciates the social aspects of climbing, especially running into students. Surprisingly, “there is a really disproportionate number of science, math, C.S. people into climbing. And if you talk to the adults at a climbing gym, you’ll meet gazillions of teachers if you go at the right time.”
To us, the teachers at our school may seem like only that—teachers at our school. In reality, they have lives outside of Stuyvesant even if we don’t. Our teachers are not only intelligent, but also athletic, though they lean toward slightly more obscure sports, like rock climbing and curling. These sports give teachers a chance to relieve their stress, meet new people, stay healthy, and learn a new skill!