Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Teaching World Used to Be Sacred, Like Coaching

My writing rate dropped off this past week with the kickoff of my kids’ soccer seasons and my seasonal return to the coaching world .

Coaching now trumps writing as the single most therapeutic experience of my week. The anti-public educatorism brought to Wisconsin by outside money and outside forces (like the Koch Brothers, ALEC, and MacIver Institute) and subsequently adopted and implemented by Governor Scott Walker have caused terminal damage to my daytime profession as an educator. In the evenings and on weekends, coaching provides relief from Walker’s dichotomous creation in Wisconsin.

In recent years, my coaching has centered on my kids’ activities. However, I have been at the coaching game my entire adult life. In fact, I was a coach before I was a teacher. Under the wing of one of my former coaches, I started coaching as a college student. Of course, I then had no idea my coaching experience would be the blueprint for my pedagogy.

In my coaching, I learned to manage and motivate young people, placate disgruntled parents, and foster teamwork among players. I further learned the power of direct instruction and the importance of shaping larger skills by breaking them into smaller steps. I also learned how letting go allows learning to happen naturally, differentiating better serves each learner, and listening fosters group ties. I learned much during my university training, but coaching was the best “teacher” training I ever received.

Coaching youth sports is essentially the ideal teaching and learning environment. In coaching, I have the freedom to teach standards, skills, and values under the guise of play and creative instruction. Parents respect my efforts and tolerate my imperfections. Players yearn to learn more, accept criticism constructively, and frantically work to be part of the team. The board works tirelessly to generate the funding necessary for players’ needs. All of this is a winning playbook for players, parents, and coaches.

The stakes for learning and coaching are incredibly low. Sure, victories are always a little more fun, but winning is largely a sidebar. Parents and I consistently preach to players that winning games does not matter. Despite the variance in abilities, each player has a unique role and respect is earned by contributing his/her best. Players are told to have fun and work hard. As long as players are improving, all are happy.

Parents understand that effective coaching is beyond measure. Successful coaches help players grow in self-esteem, fitness habits, teamwork, self-discipline, creativity, collaborative skills, and personal responsibility. The data meisters cannot measure the growth of these intrinsic skills. Parents and players just know this. Of course, standardized tests do not exist in the coaching world. I have never had a parent ask me for data on their child’s development. A child’s success in sports is based on qualitative observations by coaches and parents who naturally know learning is something better described than quantified.

Notably, all these great things happen in my coaching world without merit measures. I refuse gift giving from parents and get paid the same regardless of my record. Players are enticed with nothing more than occasional praise for appropriate effort. Frequently, goal scoring is often ignored and commendation goes to the pass, effort, or defensive play that led to the goal. As players progress, I have learned to let go as players move the team concept to new levels by coaching each other.

To claim that my coaching world is an anomaly would be inaccurate. For most of my professional teaching career, my coaching experience has mirrored my teaching experience. My coaching and teaching worlds have been full of creative freedom, parental support, engaged students, supportive board members, and collaborative-minded educators.

In recent times, however, my dual delight has been spliced. Regretfully, politicalpreneurs are polluting my teaching world. The long reach of politicians is taking teamwork out of teaching by injecting competitive-minded, unproven merit pay initiatives and “value-added” accountability measures (which actually have little value). Gov. Walker’s unwillingness to negotiate with public educators has fractured the teamwork essential for quality public education. Walker and his devotees have pitted teachers v. taxpayers, public service v. private enterprise, and charter/private schools v. public schools. This is a losing formula for all of Wisconsin.

Ignored by Walker and his fellow politicalpreneurs are the education studies showing teamwork works in teaching. Collaboration and negotiation is a dirty word (and lied about) in Walker’s Wisconsin. In fact, some of his most fanatical GOP supporters, in Joe McCarthy-like fashion, like to spin teacher teamwork as communist ideology. Most telling is how the Walker administration trashed sincere efforts by State Superintendent Tony Evers to team with Walker on recent education initiatives. The attack on the Wisconsin’s teaching team continued this past week with more Walker political maneuvering to further damage public educators’ professional futures.

Inevitably, creativity, so abundant in coaching, will be pushed aside by the national accountability craze. Much of this high-stakes measurement charade is comical. However, this comedy is not funny (unlike the hilarious Daily Show). This is a tragic comedy for students, parents, and professional educators—who know that learning can only be described, not measured.”

We rightfully worry what value will be given to the intangibles traditionally taught in schools—like self-esteem, fitness habits, teamwork, self-discipline, creativity, collaborative skills, and personal responsibility. I suspect those of us who value more than just analytical skills for our children should just join the race and conjure up some charts and collective data to protect the aforementioned intangibles from becoming entirely expendable. I do not know if I have the legs for this sprint.

Coaching, which used to compliment my teaching, is my oasis from the reformers’ rat race. Coaching, and its healthy competition, provides refuge from the unhealthy competition being infused in my teaching world by alleged education reformers. Sadly, coaching youth sports may well soon be the last vestige of learning not focused on communal data, accountability, and divisive merit competitions.

I will cherish my coaching world while I can for I know how quickly seemingly sacred worlds—like public education—can come crashing down.

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