Skating Out Classroom Stress As A 'Derby Dame'
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
As part of our series on the secret lives of teachers, we're going to meet a teacher whose secret is often hard for her students to believe. It involves elbow and knee pads and a helmet. NPR's Tovia Smith has more on how this high school English teacher in Boston likes to roll outside of the classroom.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Every fall on the first day of school, Nina Park starts class with a game called two truths and a lie. Her students have to guess which is which.
NINA PARK: So I tell my students reading is my favorite thing to do, that I am sort of Instagram famous and that I play roller derby.
SMITH: And every year her students get it wrong. All geared up in a helmet, kneepads, elbow pads and retro looking roller skates...
PARK: Oh, good Lord.
SMITH: ...Park jostles, bumps and rolls around a makeshift track in an old warehouse.
PARK: Jesus, Molly.
SMITH: Elle L. Cool Jam, she is called.
SMITH: Her team's jammer, who tries to score by forcing and finessing her way past a scrum of blockers, most way bigger than her 5'2'', 120-pound frame.
PARK: This is so scary.
SMITH: Once she was literally knocked unconscious, but she keeps coming back. It's exhilarating, she says, and liberating, especially after a stressful day teaching at her inner-city Boston school.
PARK: Oh my God, yes. Yes, absolutely - I mean, you know, sometimes it just feels good to get it out.
You know, you always do it legally, but sometimes that hip check was for something else.
Oh my god.
We're pretty tough. So we're, you know, thoughtful and ladylike but, you know, when it comes down to it, we're ready to rumble.
BRUTAL LITHIUM: I'm Brutal Lithium, I'm studying for a PhD in chemistry.
LICENSE TO KARI: I am License to Kari. I'm a waitress at a cafe in Salem.
SMITH: You kind of get the idea that all these Boston Derby Dames, as the league is called, are acting out a kind of double life.
HARD CORE: I'm Hard Core and I work for the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
PARK: Oh. Nice job, Hard Core.
SMITH: On Park's team, the Cosmo-nauties, some wear tutus over their tattoos while others are bedazzled and metallic. But this is not your grandmother's roller derby with totally staged brawls. It's a real and complex sport with serious athletes playing both offense and defense at the same time, which Park says feels a lot like what she does in class.
PARK: My students have a lot of kind of tender spots. So I have to push them to work harder and be the best that they can be. But if you push too hard, they push back. So you have to have the right amount of push and support at the same time.
Can you guys also take out your notebooks, please?
SMITH: Back at school, in her honor's English class...
PARK: Good. Proud of you.
SMITH: ...Elle L. Cool Jam lapses back into the mild-mannered Ms. Park.
PARK: Have you used your transitions?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Four.
PARK: Four? That's awesome. Good.
SMITH: 10th grader Malachi Freeman has a hard time seeing Ms. Park as Elle L. Cool Jam.
MALACHI FREEMAN: That was the thing that blew my mind when she told me. (Laughter) I didn't really know teachers had an afterlife like that.
PARK: Nice. Yes.
SMITH: But you'd be wrong to think this was a total Jeckyll-Hyde kind of thing.
PARK: Good job. You got me with this and your hip, and it was amazing.
SMITH: Back on the track, you can definitely see the Ms. Park in the Elle L. Cool Jam.
PARK: Nice, Molly. You guys got me so good right here.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: She will get hit so hard and she just smiles. It's like - you did such a good job.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah, she congratulates the other team on hitting her well.
PARK: Nice. You were amazing.
SMITH: Her teammates love her for it. When Park comes off the track, she spins around, and I catch a glimmer of a silver necklace she's wearing with a name on it that says - wait, it's not Nina or Elle L. Cool Jam.
PARK: It's actually my Instagram handle. It's Ninanailedit. I also do nail art.
SMITH: Yep. That's the other other side of this English teacher.
PARK: I'm serious. I actually have 18,000 followers on Instagram.
SMITH: With Ninanailedit, aka Nina Park, aka Elle L. Cool Jam, I'm Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.