If only we could make teaching more like coaching!
About a month ago, I finished up another hockey season. Coaching hockey in Warroad is very demanding in terms of time, energy, and emotion, so I always look forward to the freedom I'll have when the season ends. But when the season ends, I always feel a little empty. I love teaching--I really do. But the fulfillment I get from that doesn't come close to matching the feeling of fulfillment I get from coaching.
As a coach, I feel much more important to my players than I ever do to my students as a teacher. A major reason for this is simply time. I'm not sure whether I spent more time this winter with our hockey team or with my wife. Practices, games, tournaments, over-night trips, and bus rides all add up. Because of all that time, a coach gets the opportunity to talk to players that a teacher can never get with students. I don't know how many times I sat down and talked individually to players this year, but it was a lot. More often than not, kids respond to these talks with real gratitude, and I'd come away from that feeling pretty good.
One reason the talks I had with players were so meaningful is that the kids cared so much about what we were talking about. It's tough to match that when I talk to a student about their performance in American History or Economics. One can argue about whether or not sport is too important to young athletes, but the bottom line is that it is very important to them. Although there will be some grumbling while kids are going through difficult skating drills, deep down they expect and actually want to be pushed. I don't get that feeling very often in the classroom.
The bottom line is that kids who are out for a sport want to be there. I firmly believe that, at least at the high school level, school should be the same way. In other words, it should not be compulsory. Public education should be there for any young person who wants it, but it shouldn't be forced on anyone who doesn't want it. In fact, it can't be forced on anyone, because there is no way that you can force someone to learn who isn't interested in doing so.
Finally, as a coach--even though I am just an assistant coach--I have real authority. If a player ever becomes a liability to what we are trying to accomplish on our team, our coaching staff does not have to put up with him. Players can be dismissed from our team at any time. Everybody knows that--coaches, players, and parents. Partially as a result of that, the power that coaches have in this area rarely has to be used. During my twenty years at Warroad, only two players have had to be dismissed.
I often criticise so-called educational experts, but now I'm going use a quote that I got from Diane Ravitch's Left Back. In 1933 Isaac Kandel said this: [There is] "one part of our educational system, secondary and higher, in which there is no compromise with standards, in which there is rigid selection both of instructors and students, in which there is no soft pedagogy, and in which training and sacrifice of the individual for common ends are accepted without question. I refer, of course, to the organization of athletics." He suggested that if American schools became more like their athletic programs, they would be reinvigorated.
That statement was made over 75 years ago, but it still holds true today.