Fixing Our Schools

I just read an article in The Week magazine about the difference between education in Finland vs. education in the United States. “Why Finland has better schools” by Amanda Ripley discusses her own personal experiences while observing the educational system at a high school in Finland.

She made many good points, and, although I’ve heard some of this before, it never gets old to me to read about how other countries value teachers as professionals and expect them to be top performers in their fields rather than lower-level achievers.

In my experience, most of the teachers I know are high achievers, but I know that there are those out there who don’t really care about teaching, but do it because it’s what they chose to do at some point. In the article, Ripley discusses her own high school math teacher who, admittedly became a teacher so he could coach. I know several teachers who have gone this route.

This brings me to an insane conclusion followed by a proposal. What if our focus on sports is one reason that our educational system is broken? Not only do some teachers teach because they want to coach, but there are also students who attend school because they want to be athletes. They aren’t here to succeed in the classroom, but on the gridiron or court.

Coaches who teach cannot be fully committed to the classroom. As a speech coach, I know that I have to dedicate some of my time to coaching and attending contests. The time demands placed on me are not even close to the demands placed upon a head football coach (or any other head coach of a major sport). Therefore, because they are occupied with playbooks and practice, they cannot be fully committed to the classroom. It is simply a matter of time management. i have seen coaches working on practices while students watch videos or complete worksheets in the classroom. This is a sad truth.

So my proposal is that we eliminate high school sports altogether. We do away with this idea of somehow linking a high school to athletic teams. Students would still be encouraged to go out for sports, but they would be at the club level, separate from the school in every way.

I know it sounds drastic, but it just makes sense. How can we justify all the expense and time devoted to sports in our struggling school systems? How can we justify the injuries that so many student athletes suffer? What would a school with no sports look like?

Don’t get me wrong. I am an avid sports fan. I think that sports are important and they have their place, but I have never understood how they became so interconnected with our educational systems at every level. Don’t get me started on the NCAA.

This is just a thought. I welcome any input.

Competition: The True Educational Motivator

Two conversations came up this weekend that drive me to the conclusion that the best motivator for students (and just about anyone else) is competition.

I teach four sections of the same Humanities class. These are seniors who are feeling senioritis long before they can even find graduation on the calendar. Each of my sections was doing the same basic work. They were reading one of three selections of Greek philosophy and then creating a poster for a brief presentation.

Because I taught all four sections back to back, I was able to get a pretty good read on the results based on the way I presented the assignment. In the first section, I told the groups that this was a contest, and only the best poster for each reading would be displayed on the wall.

I did not include the idea of a competition in any of the other sections.

The results were pretty amazing.

The next day, each of the groups presented, but only the class that prepared for a contest really took time and put effort into the poster. The other sections had posters (for the most part) but they were utilitarian and not very aesthetic. The first section’s posters were all well done and completed with pride. One included drawings and art, another included pictures downloaded from the internet. the posters in the other sections only had words.

My nephew teachers in another school, and he told us stories of motivation through competition as well.

I know that this method of motivation works, but I wonder why I don’t implement it into my teaching more frequently? I wonder if a teacher uses competition too much, does it burn the students out? I didn’t even have to offer any sort of prize. I just mentioned the idea of competition and the work was so much better.

Pictures to follow.