I may not have survived my first year in the classroom if it hadn't been for basketball. Many of my students lived and breathed it (this was the west side of Chicago during Michael Jordan's heyday), and I was pretty good at it. So when I was unable to connect with kids in the classroom, I tried to connect with them on the court.
With the principal's and parents' permission, I invited students to join me in the gym after school when the team had away games. The only catch was that if they wanted to shoot hoops with me after school, they would have to comply with my requirements during school. A slam dunk behavior management solution, since most of my troublemakers loved basketball.
And what an ego trip for me as word spread across the school that "Coach G's got game." Students who previously resented me now respected me, and I even looked forward to coming to school on certain days--days when the team had an away game, of course.
Just one problem: even though basketball provided a more peaceful classroom, it didn't provide a more productive one. One reason for this is that just because students are compliant doesn't mean they're going to learn more. Another reason is that I was diverting my attention from what is required for students to learn more: a well managed classroom with well planned instruction. Sure enough, it was only after I provided students such a classroom that they began to learn to their potential. And they still respected me, but for the right reason:
When I first walked into your class I knew I would be learning. You created a learning environment--there are calendars, charts, and many things that assist you in learning. You have your own standards and methods that are well taught. It is nice to know there are instructors who are willing to go the extra miles in order to facilitate learning.
And I was going those "extra miles" in the classroom--not on the court--since these comments came long after I had stopped shooting hoops with students.
A lesson here is that while it's important to connect with students, you must do so in the context and confines of the classroom. Great teachers do this by having at least one meaningful interaction with every student every class period. And they do it in the normal flow of teaching and learning, a much more appropriate way to score points with students than throwing a ball through a hoop.
Image by Viorel Dudau, provided by Dreamstime license
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