There are two types of teachers: those who coach, and those who don’t. I often find myself sitting at teacher meetings, and listening to people blab about “wanting to make accommodations” and “making sure we don’t leave any child behind” and “slowing down and doing more activities”, and rolling my eyes at the touchy-feely-ness of it all. And, then I realize that most of the people I roll my eyes come from the non-coaching perspective (And, please don’t get me wrong–we NEED both kinds of teachers, because we have both kinds of kids–some kids really connect with the touchy-feely-ness, some kids really connect with the teaching-as-coaching approach).
There are many ways coaching infiltrates my teaching. For one, I believe in teaching endurance. Much like running a mile, I don’t necessarily expect my students to be masters at the beginning of the year, but I do expect them to train, to push themselves, and to be masters by the end. They probably should not get an A on their first essay, but they could on their last. I give them really, really hard stuff so that I give them the opportunity to grow. For example, if I play it safe and put a double piourette into our competition piece, my dancers practice what they know for months. And, while they may get REALLY, REALLY good at double piourettes, I am not giving them the opportunity to grow. Instead, when we start practicing, I tell them they have to have a quad. If they don’t get it, we water it down, but at least they have the opportunity to grow. The same is true with teaching. At the beginning of the year, I give my students really, really hard readings and really, really hard writing prompts, so that they have the opportunity to get better. This year, I gave my seniors a piece I read in grad school. No, they didn’t necessarily understand what a ‘paradigm shift’ is, and they didn’t quite find the author’s intended thesis, but my hope is, that by practicing these really, really hard skills, they will eventually get better. If I just gave them grade level stuff all year, they would not grow intellectually. Kids want to be challenged.
I also don’t really give out too many compliments, because I always think things can be done better (call me a perfectionist, or cold-hearted). When a kid shows me an essay, I usually respond with, “That was good, BUT I think you can find a better word to put here”, or “This thesis statement is better, BUT I think you could make it more succinct”; they will rarely ever hear, “This is the best thing I have ever read” come out of my mouth. It’s the same thing with running our competition dance: each time we do it, it looks better, BUT we can ALWAYS be bigger, we can ALWAYS be sharper, and we can ALWAYS smile more. Avenues for improvement never cease to exist, because we can ALWAYS be better (this actually gets me into trouble sometimes and is probably where a touchy-feely teacher might be of more use).
Third, I look at my classes as a team; we all are responsible for each other’s actions, because we all contribute in some way or another to the classroom environment; if one kid acts out, and the rest of us laugh, then we contribute to that behavior, and we should all suffer the consequences. It’s kind of like on a cheer team: when one person gets lazy, then the whole stunt falls. When I was absent in one of my classes last week, a student blurted some comments out to the substitute about how she was “sexist” and “discriminatory”, and of course, the entire class got rowdy and fed off that behavior, and it sounded like it ended in a disaster. So, when I came back to school, the entire class got a lecture, and the entire class had to write reflections and apology notes, because we all, in some way or another contribute to each other’s behavior, much like when a team member is late for wrestling practice, the whole team conditions, because we are all in this together.
In terms of discipline, I believe that some kids require public humiliation. Of course, you must read the situation. If the kid is a wallflower and potentially very vulnerable, calling them out in class is probably going to be more damaging to their self-ego. However, if you have a kid who is just a jerk, who says ignorant and immature comments, sometimes he/she needs to feel the wrath of his/her peers in the form of public humiliation. For example, if I see a student blatantly cheating on a test, I need to make a big scene out of it, so that the entire class knows that is unacceptable behavior. I also believe guilt is the best form of punishment; if you make a kid feel guilty about their actions, no further action is required, because guilt in itself is such a ravenous emotion that will serve natural, internal consequences.
I believe that not every kid wins, and that, sometimes, we need to just leave kids behind (I also often get myself in trouble with this philosophy). In football, no matter how much passion a kid might have, he physically just may not be big enough to play on the O-Line. In basketball, no matter how much practice a kid might participate in, he/she just may not be fast enough or be able to jump high enough to be on varsity. And, in teaching, some kids just don’t have the capacity to understand rhetoric and systems thinking. That is ok, we still love them; we just can’t hold back the class (aka the team) to get them caught up all the time.
When I grade papers, much like judging a dance competition, students/athletes must EARN the points. When I look at a dance performance, rather than subtract points for things that look bad, I give points for things that impress me: cool team cross patterns, intricate turn sections, intense energy and sharp arm motions. This way, everyone starts at the bottom and must work their way up. In terms of teaching, instead of starting at 100% and deducting for bad grammar/sentence structure, students start at a 0% and must impress me with their thesis statements and arguments. This often makes it difficult to get 100%, but then again, there are ALWAYS things that can be done better.
Last, I believe that all kids fail. In fact, I resonate when kid’s DO fail, because that means growth. When a football team loses a game, they go back to the drawing board, and determine what went wrong, so they can fix it. When my dance team gets into a mental game about the floor and biff their performance, we figure out how we are going to be mentally tougher. And when my students fail a quiz, we talk about what their study habits were, and how they can improve those in the future. We welcome failure.
The great thing about teaching is that we have all kinds of students, and all kind of teachers to reach those students. We have teachers who reach the athletes, and teacher who reach the thespians, and teachers who reach the Bronies. There are certainly students that I reach that other teachers do not, and students that I do not reach that other teachers do. We can’t save them all individually, but the hope is, collectively, we can.