ird Droppings April 10, 2020
The great teachers of America: Where do they come from?
I started back to grad school after my ten-year doctorate furlough. I am looking to teach several new college classes when I get back on track. For now, I am finishing the year at Alcovy high school and getting ready for something new. Last night when I got home from spending some time with my son I was sitting mesmerized by the night sounds when the kitchen door opened and our dog poked his head out I am sure he was wondering what I was doing. I was not in the mood for TV and the sounds of darkness seem to calm me after a seriously crazy week. Fortunately, this year I have only had to deal with routine involvement with the medical field.
Last night off in the distance a whippoorwill was calling to one near the house and an occasional owl chimed in. It was an exceptionally human free intrusion on a quiet night since few people influenced noises were present cool enough for AC to be quiet. I found myself thinking to the idea of; I wonder if this is what it sounded like hundreds of years ago just the various birds, crickets, frogs and owls. A heavy dew was dripping from pine needles nearby adding to the ambiance. I gave thanks, put up our dog and headed to bed.
“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Our former federal education program NCLB, No Child Left behind was about lifting standards higher to make the United States number one in education. In the news literally daily, the idea of raising the bar in our educational process was suggested over and over again even while we flounder in teaching online. We need more students to succeed so we will raise the standards and graduation rates is what politicians say. Raise the bar educationally is the call word. The theory is that more students will succeed with higher standards for teachers and students. However, changing of teaching methods, changing delivery, and even changing standards does not raise the ability or desire of a given student.
I can’t help but think of high jumping when the idea of raising the bar came up. Let us use as acceptable a height of currently thirty-six inches and tomorrow we will raise the bar to sixty inches and you will succeed because we have a new way of telling you how to jump. We will use a megaphone now, and just as you jump we will yell “NOW JUMP”. As silly as this sounds this little exercise which is akin to many educational programs is more how not to succeed than before. Before raising the standard did we look at why the students could not clear thirty-six inches. Was it the teaching method, or the physical ability of the student, was it the shoes they are wearing, perhaps the surface of the run way to the jump pit is too soft or slippery, is there a wind that knocks the bar off as they approach.
I am very sarcastic in saying this, in education time after time the mention of zip codes and test scores comes up. In today’s jargon that’s why we need charter schools run by businesses who know what to do. So, in my naiveté, I wonder how does a real estate mogul or software genius know how to teach or seemingly increase knowledge and cognition over say a teacher? Even more interesting is many of so-called experts have not succeeded in school and or did not go through college. But they know what it takes to help poor kids or failing kids how to raise the bar.
Basically in any type of medium if a person cannot jump thirty six inches moving to sixty inches will only assure failure. However, with practice and time sixty inches is possible but several factors have to be in place and a key one is the desire and attitude of the person doing the jumping. The coach can be the greatest in the world but if the student is content with failure, for whatever reason they will fail. A few years back I watched the induction of John Madden into the NFL hall of fame. Madden has been one of my favorite commentators and coaches of all time.
“Coaches have to watch for what they don’t want to see and listen to what they don’t want to hear.” John Madden
“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” Ara Parseghian
Coaching and teaching the terms are often synonymous in many ways. It was a number of years ago I raised and showed horses. I had a very good Appaloosa gelding we affectionately called “Spot” and with me riding Spot would be third or fourth but we would always place. Funny thing was with my trainer on board Spot would win. I once asked about this phenomenon and was told the following.
“You put a ten horse, and by ten I mean on a scale from 1-10 out with a 1 rider again on a scale of 1-10 and you have a 5 ride, however you put a 10 horse and 10 rider out and what are your odds” Earl Burchett, trainer and judge of Appaloosa and Quarter horses
As I thought of my horse days quote, teaching and coaching are similar. A good teacher can get more out of a poor functioning group of students and a poor teacher will get something out of great students. For forty-five years I have asked how do we distinguish who are the good teachers and or coaches are from a mediocre one.
“Success is not forever and failure isn’t fatal.” Don Shula
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Vince Lombardi
Commitment is a key word in selecting a great teacher and or coach and the ability of instilling that commitment in their students and players. Over the years few coaches have been compared to the great Vince Lombardi who is perhaps the greatest of all coaches.
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” Vince Lombardi
“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” Vince Lombardi
The ability to succeed is based on hard work desire and determination these are skills that great teachers and great coaches can instill in students and players.
“The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else” John Madden
Far too often we only see the champion and how many folks can remember who finished second or third in the national championship game. This may be a fault in our society that we settle for only the greatest only the best. We live on a bell shape curve and only a few will ever be the best but it is in the trying and it is motivating students into trying that as a teacher is to excel. It is so easy to succumb to the down side of that curve. Fifty percent will not succeed and that mentality is often so powerful that so why should I try harder.
“One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it.” Knute Rockne
A slight paraphrase of this great quote from the great Notre Dame Coach, “One teacher teaching is better than fifty saying they do”. This is what it is about; it is about truly teaching, motivating, instilling determination, and desire. It is about coaching and succeeding rather than failure. I hear every day, but I have a seventy percent I am passing that really makes me upset that a child concedes to a seventy percent. Who gave out seventy percent passes but we do it all the time. Can a thirty-six-inch jumper clear sixty inches?
Many years ago, a so-so high jumper changed his form. He was also a student of physics and as such and he noticed jumpers were leading with their foot and the body following. He changed his form and lead with his head and torso and high jumping changed forever. Shortly thereafter a world record and Olympic gold went to Dick Fossberry and the Fossberry flop, as it was called is now the jumping style of all record holding high jumpers. Funny thing is, today all high jumpers lead with their head a matter of physics getting the heaviest part over first and those muscles pushing it over last which takes less effort and the world record keeps going up. It is about ideas, determination and commitment and any goal can be accomplished.
Can this apply to teaching and learning? Most assuredly we can, but we have to try and we have to look for the means of accomplishing our goal. Federal standards called for research-based programs in educational settings yet there are only a few the field is narrow and the difficultly is doing new research which requires guinea pigs and too many teachers and programs do not want to fail. Teacher’s jobs are at stake as well as administrators and so we in trying to improve may actually have boxed ourselves in by limiting improvement to a narrow window of research proven programs, which in reality may or may not work. Are they researched n the same demographics as the students you teach or will be teaching is always a question? Has this program truly been tested on a large enough group? Is there room for improvement and progress within the program?
From personal experience I have watched administrators then limit programs due to their own limitations in imagination and creativity. One of my favorites is the notorious word wall. A teacher must have six-inch letters of vocabulary words on the wall and that is it. So an electronic version that is available at home anywhere on computer is not a word wall or a well-designed graphic as a lead in for a students working notebook in class is not a word wall, a set of personal flash cards is not a word wall, t-shirts with vocabulary, sky writing vocabulary words these are not word walls it has to be six inch red letters not yellow or blue. Teaching gets defeated by limits, impositions and parameters imposed by lesser imaginative administrators and legislators.
“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I went out walking to my quiet spot before posting today sitting at home. I sat in my quiet spot giving thanks for all that has transpired in the past week for each element good and bad makes all involved a better person. I shared with a dear friend yesterday how each person we interact with gives us a piece of our life’s puzzle and shared my business card which is covered in puzzle pieces and they smiled and said it makes sense now. The pieces are all falling in place. So I end my writing for today and get back to the grind of educating the masses and getting phone calls made and computer forms filled in but still the hard part is keeping all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts and always giving thanks namaste.
My family and friend’s I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)