Growing Up in Santa Cruz: Potential and the Value of Sitting on the Bench

Growing Up in Santa Cruz, June 2019, “Potential and the Value of Sitting on the Bench,” by Lisa Catterall.

I would never have thought I was capable of sitting on the bench as the number two man. And it showed me that you can really achieve everything in life, even the unthinkable, as long as you’re willing to work on yourself a little bit. – Oliver Kahn

Some of my students were particularly distraught today because a friend of theirs quit a varsity sports team after one of the biggest games of the season. There was a speculative consensus that this students’ reaction was because they felt slighted by the coach for being on the bench too much during that important game.

I asked my students why they were upset about this. They said they lost a friend for their practices, and they lost momentum, and they were not sure if they should take sides, and they were fuzzy on what happened and whether there were even sides to take.

They loved this team-mate and wanted them to stay for all of high school; they needed this person as a player and friend.

The conversation took a deeper turn as they pondered what would have driven their friend to do something that seemed so drastic to them, after all, this student had been playing this sport throughout their life. We talked about happiness, and one student wondered, “Is being the star of the team really what makes you happy?”

Too often our culture drives people to make decisions that create the opposite of happiness. Sometimes, from a teachers’ perspective, we watch our students and their families pour so much energy into pursuits that appear to lead directly away from happiness. When we watch parents pushing their students in directions that don’t seem to fit or to allow the student to follow their bliss, we see lost potential.

Back in our classroom discussion, which occurred as we worked on an architecture project for my geometry class, I had a rare moment of allowing myself to dole out my personal perspective. I prefer asking questions and listening until students make a realization they need to make in the moment.

“Happiness doesn’t come from anything you achieve by yourself, it comes from being absorbed completely into something bigger than yourself.” Read more


Lisa Catterall teaches STEAM, math, science, and art at Mount Madonna School. She has authored curriculum frameworks for California and Kentucky on arts education as a senior associate of the Centers for Research on Creativity. She is a former middle school director and the founder of a STEAM engineering program. She lectures and trains teachers and administrators on innovation in education in Chaoyang District’s foreign experts program in Beijing, China. After spending 14 years in biotechnology, she began her teaching career as a middle school math teacher in her mid-thirties. Lisa has five children and has lived in Santa Cruz County for most of her life.

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Nestled among the redwoods on 355 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.