What about adding to our current reality TV: The great teachers of America?

Bird Droppings October 13, 2021
What about adding to our current reality TV: The great teachers of America?

I am back in grad school and today working on writing. A time ago, I had been set up to teach several new college classes when I received notification of a reduction in force just before I started on a new syllabus and lesson plans, which got me thinking. Last night when I got home, I was mesmerized by night sounds; when the kitchen door opened and our dog poked his head out, I am sure wondering what I was doing. I was not in the mood for TV, and the sounds of darkness seemed to calm me; this has not been mentioned in nearly two years after a seriously crazy week, too much going on. In the distance, an owl was calling to one near the house, and crickets, tree frogs, and an occasional coyote chimed in. It was an exceptionally human-free intrusion on a quiet night since few people-influenced noises were present. 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 and headed to bed.

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our former federal education program, No Child Left behind, was about lifting standards to a higher level to make the United States number one in education. In the news daily, the idea of raising the bar in our educational process was suggested repeatedly. I find it interesting this has not been mentioned in nearly two years. We need more students to succeed, so we will change/raise the standards and graduation rates. So, to say raise the bar educationally. The theory is that more students will succeed with higher standards for teachers and students. However, changing teaching methods, changing delivery, and even changing standards do 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 a height of currently thirty-six inches as acceptable, and tomorrow, we will raise the bar to sixty inches, and you will succeed. It is all 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 “JUMP.” As silly as this sounds, this little exercise akin to many educational programs is more about 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? Was it the physical ability of the student? Was it the shoes they were wearing? Perhaps the surface of the runway to the jump pit is too soft or slippery? Was there a wind that knocks the bar off as they approach?

In education, time after time, the mention of zip codes and test scores comes up, and in today’s jargon, that’s why we need these 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 increases knowledge and cognition over, say, a teacher? Even more interesting is that many so-called experts have not succeeded in school and did not go through college. But they know what it takes to help poor kids or failing kids how to raise the bar. More recently a continued amount of corruption and failure rate in these for-profit charter schools. Some are being successful; my granddaughter’s county system officially is a charter.

If a person cannot jump thirty six inches moving to sixty inches in any medium 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 on failure, 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 are often synonymous in many ways. It was several years ago I raised and showed horses. I had an outstanding Appaloosa gelding we affectionately called “Spot,” With me riding, Spot would be third or fourth but always place. The funny thing was with my trainer onboard 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 one rider again on a scale of 1-10 and you have a five ride; however you put a ten horse and ten 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 student group, and a poor teacher will get something out of great students. For forty-five years, I have asked how we distinguish who the good teachers and or coaches are from a mediocre ones. I always questioned why a good friend and I who co-taught together would always get classes made up often eighty percent at risk and special education out of thirty-two students or so. We continued to produce test scores that were often better than other regular classes. I would joke we were the only class that went out, for example, in biology. We provided context to kids who could not learn from the content.

“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 keyword in selecting a great teacher and or coach and the ability to instill that commitment in their students and players. Over the years, few coaches have been compared to the great Vince Lombardi, 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

Success 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 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 downside 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 genuinely 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 passing that 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? It is about ideas, determination, and commitment, and any goal can be accomplished. 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. 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.

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 call for research-based programs in educational settings, yet there are only a few; the field is narrow, and the difficulty is doing new research requiring guinea pigs. Too many teachers and programs do not want to fail. Teachers’ jobs are at stake as well as administrators. So we, in trying to improve, may have boxed ourselves in by limiting improvement to a narrow window of research-proven programs, which in reality may or may not work. Have they researched n the same demographics as the students you teach, or will teach always be 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 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 a computer is not a word wall or a well-designed graphic as a lead-in for students working notebook in class is not a word wall, a set of personal flashcards is not a word wall, t-shirts with vocabulary, skywriting 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

It has been a few days since I last went out walking to my quiet spot before posting.  I used to sit in my quiet place giving thanks for all that has transpired in the past day or so, and for each element, good and bad, it makes all involved a better person. Last night, I shared with a friend 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, always giving thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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