Thursday, February 11, 2010

Teacher as Coach

My friend over a Insignificant Wranglings writes this in defense of a classroom workshop that involved him publically assessing the first sentences of his students' writing:
But I am calling Lanham to my defense--don't I, as a writing instructor--have to blame as well as praise? Doesn't my honest assessment lend more value to my feedback? Because I can say that, after the workshop, the amended first sentences I saw displayed far more sophistication. (Here again I nod to my own personal pedagogical narrative, my ties to Dr. David Zern's emphasis on disequilibrium culled from Freudian psychoanalysis-- although this time I am clearly back in the mode of making my students uncomfortable).
He concluded with:
On another note, more and more watching Project Runway influences my teaching persona.

Here was my response: With respect to your concluding remark on Project Runway. I feel the same influence, and, quite related, I often feel jealous of coaches for the liberties they can take in "teaching" athletes. They are able, it seems to me, to be more aggressive and count under their purview issues of effort. I could never circle my class up and tell them to "pull their heads out of their asses" as I once told as a high school athlete.

I think this has to do with how "we" view both intellect and athletic ability. Athletic ability is easier to tie to issues of effort, commitment and habit. We see sport as activity and practice, so it is more like to be a failure in activity and practice that leads to a failure on the field. Intellect ("smarts") are seen as a possession rather than an activity. I refer here to an earlier blog of yours. Most teachers would, of course, that some students work harder than others, but to make a part of their pedagogy would be a bridge too far.

It is no doubt the classroom setting as well that prevents us from treating students as athletes, but there seems to be sometime else at work. Maybe, also that sports are more social (at least team sports) and academics are seen as more personal. To tell a running back that their blocking sucks maybe not be as personal as telling a student their first sentence is terrible.

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