Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Yes, it's teaching


During the first week of my teaching credential program, I walked up to one of my college professors to ask that I leave orientation about 30 minutes early because I was going to coach my Bidwell Junior High School team in our own tournament. She made the comment, "Now might be the time you need to choose whether you want be a coach or a teacher." I hung my head, missed the game, and sat through orientation.

About a year and a half later, I teacher at Ukiah High School came up to me and said, "You need to focus on your reputation as a teacher, not a coach. If you get the reputation as a coach, you'll never be well respected." I nodded in quick agreement and made a half-hearted effort to keep the two separated, which could explain why I wasn't a very good coach for a few years.

Both these people were dead wrong and fed into the stereotype that coaches can't be effective in the classroom because they are too busy trying to get jocks to win useless athletic games. Very rarely is it taken into account that a vast majority of school populations participate in athletics, or that athletics themselves actually increase a student's academic performance. I would go beyond both facts and present to you this thesis; coaching is more about good teaching than classroom teaching is.

Yep, you heard me right. Think about something like basketball and let's look at the what the end result, or the (buzzword) OBJECTIVE, is. It isn't winning, and any good coach will tell you that winning is not the end all of athletics. If the coach preaches that philosophy, then the coach isn't a good teacher. That's something that isn't just in athletics. Examples of bad teaching are in plenty of classrooms so get off that high horse right now. The objective is preparing students for the challenges of society on an academic, mental, physical, and emotional level that is higher than standard physical education classes. Consider it Advanced Placement Physical Education, only the students put more time and dedication into these classes than the students in the classroom.
Now let's look at the planning, something that is vital to good teaching. My outline is set every day, created with a goal in mind and the flexibility to adjust with situations that might require some creativity. Those plans require that I understand student needs, facilitate learning to multiple modalities, evaluate student progress based on multiple assessments, and finally give a culminating assignment. The wonderful part of coaching is that you are doing this lesson every day, with assessment going on constantly, and culminating assignments occurring every time a game happens. Instead of waiting for idiotic, and quite frankly inaccurate, test scores that measure student progress, a teacher gets to watch the progress build in front of his/her eyes, and then compare to other students during game day. It is the most fulfilling assessment there is!

Then you add on all the external benefits of athletics; sportsmanship, character building, team building, perseverance, image......all those things that parents sometimes miss when raising kids, and you have coaches being the ultimate teachers. And again, I get that there are coaches that are the model of John Goodman in Revenge of the Nerds. Those people are bad teachers, just like those other bad teachers that don't happen to coach.

I bring this up because I was back on the court last week and dead tired, yet the kids seemed to give me that burst of energy and that flow that only comes from the knowledge that you know that the kids are "getting it". Then I watched the group of kids that I coached get out there and play some mighty fine defense (something I love to watch my teams do) and it was like I was on a high, back to the good old stomping grounds of the basketball court. Classrooms don't need desks, white boards, and STAR testing questions to be good teaching environments. When schools, and coaches, realize that coaching is simply teaching magnified, then athletics will get a better reputation than it's current state. Classroom teachers need to also see the value in athletics as something beyond the development of physical strength, especially since the student is more likely to do well academically if he/she is in a sport. Finally, community members need to realize that coaching is teaching, and that we get paid even less to put up with much more pressure from parents. While winning in competitive situations is a part of the curriculum of student athletics, the benefit is moot if the teacher isn't allowed to put it in its proper perspective.

Just like in the classroom, we are professionals.

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