I have always been an admirer of John Wooden, acclaimed teacher and coach of the UCLA Bruins. I grew up as the daughter of a basketball coach from Indiana. An autographed copy of his Pyramid of Success hung on Dad’s office wall. He shared Wooden-isms in his work as a special education teacher and director. He taught his players the proper ways to put on their socks and lace of up their shoes. basketball A worn out copy of Practical Modern Basketball still sits in Dad’s office, years after his retirement. Admiration for Coach Wooden has not come from his proficiency as a coach. My respect is for Coach Wooden, the man. I have just finished a book titled You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned by Swen Nater and Ronald Gallimore. This book takes a careful look at the teaching principles and practices of Coach Wooden, creating a direct connection with their use in the modern classroom. I had the intention of creating a series of blog posts to reflect on the whole book, but I am re-thinking that idea now. Instead, I am hung up on one thought.
Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.
The day we made the choice to become a teacher, whether it was a young child or a college student or after years in an alternate profession, is one where we accepted a tremendous amount of responsibility. We decided at that point that there weren’t bad kids. We were convinced that every child could and had the right to maximize his/her potential. We accepted the moral charge to self-examine and reflect on our practices. I truly believe that choosing to teach is a self-sacrificial decision and one that reinforces the idea that the world and its children are worth the time, effort, love and emotion. It’s the ultimate act of optimism.
So, why do I hate the teacher’s lounge? Why are conversations so full of negativity? Why is change that is in the best interest of children so easily dismissed? Why are working with antiquated practices that do not reflect the needs and challenges of a modern society?
Can optimism survive the reality of teaching? A better question may be, can learning survive without optimism?
I believe the pessimism comes from a lack of focus and understanding as to the true focus of education and the practices that we know are most successful for fostering learning. When I focus on the individual student and set appropriately challenging goals for each student, while providing the proper support, I am never disappointed. Students feel encouraged and proud of themselves. They strive to achieve these goals because they are surrounded by the comfort that your belief in them creates. When I create meaningful assignments around rich curriculum and using engaging tools, I am never disappointed. My students remind me that they are truly willing and eager to learn. When I remember that equal foes not mean fair, I find that my students respond to the idea that the worst thing I can do for them is to treat them all exactly the same.
Hmmm. Maybe our pessimism is a reflection on ourselves. It’s not about the kids. Are we willing to accept that? If we are, what are we willing to do about it?