Referring to teachers as Coaches has been in vogue for the last dozen years or so. Instead of being “Sages on the Stage,” teachers became “Guides on the Side.” Better yet, they were “Coaches” who brought out the best in their students. “Coach” was understood to be a high compliment, a term of great respect. It carried the message that this particular teacher understood individual differences among his or her students and had the skills to bring out the best in each kid. That was then…..
Times have changed, and, if I were still teaching, I don’t think I would want people calling me “Coach.”
Here’s why: the bottom line mentality is increasingly in charge in public education, with 25 states (and counting) judging teachers according to their students’ test scores. That’s a key provision of the federal government’s “Race to the Top” program as well.
This bottom line philosophy is built on the concept of winners and losers, profit and loss. In education the bottom line is, of course, test scores. And the Coach is responsible for the bottom line.
And, so, to me anyway, calling a teacher “Coach” is less a compliment and more a way of setting her up to fail. Football and basketball coaches have win-loss records that determine whether they keep their job or get fired, and I fear that’s the road education is rushing down.
So what kind of Coach will you be, teacher? Will you be the NFL’s David Shula, with a win-loss record of 19 and 52? Or the NBA’s Tim Floyd, with a career record of 90-231? You certainly don’t want to be compared to college football coaches like Kansas State’s Stan Parrish (2-30-1), Northwestern’s Rick Venturi (1-31-1) or Richard Varis of the University of Virginia (1-29). But all teachers can’t be Alabama’s Bear Bryant or Nick Saban and deliver national championships, can they?
Athletic coaches, whether their teams win or lose, are hardly solely responsible for how the games turn out. Nick Saban relies on his assistant coaches, but so did Richard Varis on his way to that 1-29 overall record. Saban gets the praise, Varis the blame, even though that’s hardly fair.
Just like athletics, schooling is a team sport, but there are significant differences. Football is a zero-sum game in which one team wins and the other loses. At its finest, however, schooling is a sport where almost all kids can win–if we define winning as performing to the best of one’s ability, learning a wide range of skills (including social skills), and developing character, grit and community spirit.
Rather than working to punish and weed out schooling’s losing “Coaches,” we ought to be finding more ways of helping schools, students and teachers succeed.