Thursday, August 20, 2015

Uncoachable Kids Become . . .

I have seen a couple of different quotes that start with “Uncoachable kids become . . .”  One of them continues . . . “unemployable adults.  Once you are convinced the coach cares, let your kids get used to someone being tough on them.”  The other one is from Fayette alum and head softball coach at the University of Alabama, Patrick Murphy.  His goes like this: “Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults, let your kids get used to someone being tough on them.  It’s life, get over it!”  The message is very similar, and one that I have seen in similar forms a lot lately, and used in arenas other than sports.  I do not believe it is a new concept as I can think back to my playing days and former teammates that I would classify as uncoachable.  And yes, I can think of examples of where they have struggled over the years sustaining meaningful employment and having a happy, successful life.

I could discuss coaching and the approaches that are commonly used today, but my focus with this article is on the other side of the equation: the student.  However, I feel a couple of brief comments need to be said about coaching.  First of all, coaches have changed a lot over the past 30 years, especially at the high school level.  And overall, the abusive strategies that some coaches have employed do not exist anywhere close to the extent they used to.  School leaders have paid a lot more attention and public pressure has forced positive change.  Yet, there are still some very tough coaches out there.  Some that will raise their voice and push kids to their limit.  What I think is important is that there is a difference between tough and abusive, and frankly, tough coaches generally get students to maximize their potential.  The same can be said about teachers and others who work with young people.  Those that are tough more often than not get results.  They might not be liked, but they get results.

So what about these uncoachable kids?  As I stated, this is not a new phenomenon.  However, today there are differences that coaches and teachers must face.  Perhaps the most obvious is that young people today have a strong need to know “why.”  They often question coaches/teachers wanting to know “why.”  When coaching was much more similar to the dictatorial practices of the military, leaders/coaches did not have to respond to “why.”  They demanded conformity and to question was insubordinate.  Today, things have changed in schools and on many athletic fields.  Coaches and teachers get frustrated with this, but it is necessary most of the time.  That said, coaches and teachers are still authority figures, and whether they answer the question or not, in order for the team/group to move forward, they have to conform.  And that is where a lot of problems exist today.  In many instances they don’t conform because they don’t like the “why” or they have opinions/beliefs that are different and insist on following those.  That does not translate well to the work world.  When a boss that owns a company tells you do to something, she does not need to tell you “why.”  They are the boss, and it doesn’t matter “why.”  They are the boss.  If students do not learn to conform when it is necessary or in particular instances – when they are uncoachable – then that is a skill they will be lacking when they move into employment.

Another major factor that has caused change is that some parents have developed stronger opinions on what they believe are in the best interest of their child and insist that they listen to them rather than the coach/teacher.  We have seen basketball players look at their dad in the crowd during a time out when they should be listening to the coach.  Dads often walk behind the bench at softball games and tell their daughters what they should do, even if it contradicts the coach.  Parents have invested quite a bit of money in travel teams and private lessons, and question the abilities of the coach, even at the college level.  Based on that, no one should be surprised that a teenager is difficult to coach when they are hearing a different message at home.  I am well aware of a basketball situation that existed in our school where the student was being coached one way in the gym and told the exact opposite at home each night by Coach Dad.  Obviously they had to go home each night and answer to Coach Dad, which as a result created a lot of tension in the gym at practice and during games when they did not follow the expectations of the coach.  Unless a student is going to work for their parents when they are finished with high school, this kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated on the job site.

Some kids are just stubborn or have a mind of their own.  For whatever reason they have ideas or practices different from their teacher.  Classrooms have gone through a lot of the same changes that coaching has in recent years and are a lot more student-centered than you and I experienced.  That said, there is still an authority structure in the classroom, and if a student doesn’t meet deadlines or doesn’t complete a retake, this reflects a great deal on their habits and perhaps even their belief system.  I don’t believe it is the role of the school to teach responsibility.  That is something that should be done at home, but I can tell you that once they start working, if they are not on time or are unwilling to re-do some of their work, they are not going to stick with that company very long.

We have entered a period in our history where people have access to a great deal of information in a short amount of time.  Students are exposed to more life experiences at a younger age than their parents and teachers, and it is natural that they are going to question things a lot more.  But the reality is that when they enter the job market, they are going to work for individuals who grew up a lot different.  If a young person is not receptive to coaching, if they always think they know a better way, then there are going to be difficult times ahead.  In the athletic arena, parents have to entrust their child to the coach.  The coach is the one that is employed by the district to do a job.  I have not met one that doesn’t want to win games, and to do that they must sometimes make difficult decisions.  The coachable young man will recognize that he can help the team by being a rebounding presence and play inside rather than stay outside shooting 3-pointers.  The uncoachable player will defy the coach, or pout about not getting to fire them up from long range.  As an employer, what person will you hire?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Challenges or Rewards?

There is no question that we have made a number of changes in our school the past couple of years with sharing, grading, Capstone, and others.  Actually, we have made quite a few changes the past five years with the goal of improving our schools so that our students were challenged and better prepared for college and the work world.  It was not that many years ago when it was quite common for the senior year to be quite honestly, laughable, in terms of the course load many students took and attitude of “cruising” through the final year before one had to get serious about college or getting a job.  The result of this was a large percentage of students finding themselves unprepared for the rigors of college and basically wasting a year of learning opportunities.  Heck, some seniors were hardly in school due to low graduation requirements, as well as lax standards for attendance, low expectations, and easily abused entitlements like early release.
At no point have I ever thought school should be like the military, though my mind has wandered from time to time about some of the discipline and procedures they use and how that might transfer to a public school!  (Note: I haven’t viewed it as prison either, and laugh when students say that it is!  I have offered to take students to a prison to visit so that they can compare!)  That said, there is an analogy for what I am discussing.  When our troops face the possibility of entering a conflict they are put through the most challenging, excruciating training that their leaders can put them through to prepare them for what lies ahead.  If they did not prepare them in the most demanding way possible, that would be an injustice if not criminal.  Why would it be any different with education?
There is proof that a demanding high school education serves students well when they go on to college.  I have heard it spoken hundreds of times!  “College math was a breeze due to having Mr. Post teach math at Galva-Holstein.”  “Writing classes in college are easy compared to taking comp from Mrs. Kovarik at NFV.”  “I hated Mrs. Bishop at Chariton, but I smoked chemistry in college because I had her in high school.”  “My four years in Ag at Creston with Mr. Zumbach made four years at Iowa State fly by.”  You see, when students are challenged, and when they sometime have to give more and work harder than even they believe they can, it paves the way for success down the road.
I cringe when students complain about a teacher being too tough.  I really cringe when parents say the same thing!  I question the decisions that are made when a student drops a tough course to take an easier one.  Why would you do that?  This will sound like a commercial, but this country prides itself on the Protestant work ethic, and it was through blood, sweat, and tears that it became great!  And yet, we allow students to back away from challenges and complain that a teacher is too demanding.  Why?  Because we want life to be easy and our children happy?  We adults know that life has challenges and there are going to be setbacks far bigger than getting a low grade, or obstacles tougher to overcome than having to rewrite a paper or staying up late to study for a test.  Yet we want to give our kids a paved road to Easy Street.

We have taken steps in the direction we should be headed, and we are being careful about what we do.  Demanding is different than impossible, and tough is not the same as unreasonable.  Teachers have raised their game to meeting increased expectations, and they continue to grow in terms of how best to teach students.  We continue to seek the best ways to support students.  And, we will continue to eliminate the “easy classes” and develop curriculum so that students have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to succeed at the next step in their life.  Perhaps our greatest challenge is motivation and convincing them that they can excel and achieve, but on that end, the job is bigger than what we can do ourselves.  We need parents to join in this as well, and rather than complaining about something being too hard or too much, help your child prioritize things in their life and put maximum effort into those pursuits that will best prepare them to live life and meet the challenges ahead.