Friday, March 30, 2007

It's all about heart

I have volunteered more of my time to help coach the Junior Varsity baseball team at the school in which I am conducting my student teaching. I thought that it was wise because I hope to coach baseball or softball when I get a full time teaching position, and I thought that it would be useful to have a little experience doing it, even though it was dumb given all of the time commitments I already have. However, it has been great. I have learned a lot about coaching and baseball. What I learned most is that kids are not getting the support they need in order to compete. So many of our players have not been playing ball for more than a couple years, and they are already sophomores and juniors in high school. It is unfortunate that they have not had the benefit of playing in the summer or in Babe Ruth leagues beyond school. There are so few players that my high school could not even field a third team for freshmen and sophomores like most schools. In one sense this is an advantage. The high school I went to was highly competitive and I was not big enough, strong enough, or fast enough, when I went there, to make the team. At least this way everyone gets to be on the team.

While participation is nice, competitiveness is nice too, and my JV team lacks the latter. In fact they are so not competitive that they have not won a game in a few years. So far we are 0-5, and there is not much hope of winning this year if things remain the same. It seems that the kids do not know how to win. Their morale is so low that after the first inning, they practically give up. Ground balls find their way to the outfield every time, and pop flies have a tendency to fall no matter how long my players have to get under them. Runners get picked off and opponent's batters have a tendency to walk or get hit by a pitch. Things go from bad to worse and worse even still. It is not a pretty sight.

But why would I write about this? What can I learn from all of this? I learned that heart which coaches and players often talk about is a real phenomenon. It is something that keeps you playing hard no matter what the odds. It is something that does not allow you to give up. Something that keeps you from throwing in the towel. I don’t know if I can instill it in my players, but they need it for sure. Friday they didn’t make it through four innings or one hour before we threw the towel in. Tuesday we scored our first run in four games, but didn't have a hit. It seems they are losing before they even take the field. They need heart. For myself, I will keep going out there even though they seem to be a lost cause, if for nothing else, because there is still a chance that they will find out what they are missing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Those who can do...

I was reflecting on the phase from where it originated I do not know, except that it ended up in pop culture somehow. It goes, “those who can do, and those who can’t teach.” After teaching for a few months now I can say with confidence that there are those who can’t teach. It is not as easy as the catchy phase makes it seem. Imagine trying to hold the interest of 30 teenagers, engage them in learning, and at some point help them to learn something they did not know they needed learn. Imagine selling something that your customer does not want to buy, all the while trying to please your boss who wants you to meet your quota. Imagine being a drill sergeant who has a platoon of new recruits to train who have been conscripted into service against their will, and then disallowed to yell at or hit them. Imagine trying to make the Cold War as interesting as American Idol, generating interest in American government when students just want to watch South Park. These are some of the obstacles to teaching.

So then this is my phrase in response to the one we all know, “those who can sometimes do, but those who can can’t necessarily teach others to do it.” Have you ever tried to teach someone something that you knew how to do? Was it frustrating? You see it on the golf course all the time. Undoubtedly there is someone out there who went along with his buddies because of peer pressure but has no idea what to do (like me). All of his friends are likely to try to help him. “Hold your hands like this…” “Keep your head down…” “Use a different club…” “Grip it looser…” The advice is never ending, but inevitably their rookie friend will not improve because all of this new information is too much and he has little experience with golf. Probably his friends will give up on him and let him hack his way through 18 holes. So then can everyone teach who can do? I think not.

Teaching today, and always as far as I can tell, is a very challenging thing. It is not a matter of simply transferring knowledge from one mind to another. Teachers and students are not computers. It takes creativity, empathy, communication, and sensitivity among other things. I heard someone say that teaching history is most effective when told as a story. History can be very interesting, but history teachers often make it boring. For instance, we studied the space race, and instead of making it about V2 and Jupiter rockets which is boring, our lesson focused more on monkeys and the lunar landing. My students were interested in the space race when I suggested that there is a possibility that we did not actually land on the moon. Some of them were shocked. How could that be? I asked them if we could land on the moon tomorrow, and most answered that we could, however we could not because our space program revolves around the shuttle, and the shuttle cannot land on the moon and then leave again. They were hooked. Suddenly a boring lesson about space ships turned into a heated discussion on whether we faked it. Is such a thing possible? Why would we fake it? How can we know for sure? Questions were flying and learning was happening. I was very pleased.

You see there are many ways to transfer information or “teach.” The challenge is in finding the method that is most effective. Power point, videos, books, computer programs, there are many tools that a teacher can use, but like other tools, they are only as effective as the person wielding them. If you don’t think I am right, try to teach something to someone else who knows nothing about it. Try to teach your girlfriend about horsepower, or your sister about baseball. For women, try to teach your boyfriend, or husband about skin care, or laundry. The point is not that there are not women interested in baseball or men who can do laundry, but the point is that it is not always as easy as it seems to teach someone something they are not naturally interested in. Therein lies the most significant challenge to teaching. So think about that the next time someone makes teaching the butt of a joke, or you hear the phase, “those who can do, and those who can’t teach.”

Monday, March 26, 2007

But teacher... my computer crashed

I have always been suspicious of those students who use the excuse that their computer crashed when it was time to turn in a project. More often it was the printer, which is understandable because we have advanced in the area of print technology far beyond Gutenberg, but we have not managed to make these print machines reliable. I thought that people who had a computer crash must have been dumb and left it out in the rain or something because I could think of no other reason why a computer would crash. I have had a computer since 1995 and never had a problem that I couldn’t fix myself. However, last week I found myself unable to even get my computer to turn on. Being in my own estimation a fairly cleaver man I promptly took it apart to "take a look" but was unable to do anything but look, and then promptly put it back together. It then worked for about five minutes. Believe me for those five minutes I felt like I was invincible. I mean if I could fix a computer with no formal training, what couldn't I do? It turned out that in fact I hadn’t fixed anything, and my computer remains dead. I am hoping that it might be resurrected, but I am not sure I can wait until the second coming. Meanwhile I am using my wife's computer which is much more capable than mine, even though she only uses it to check her email twice a week. It is nice except that it has none of my games or gadgets on it, all of which I have been prohibited to install. I only tell you all of this to say that I am sorry for not posting anything for the last two weeks. I will try to post all of the things I wrote in that time over the next few days, and that I now am more inclined to listen when a student tells me that their computer crashed and their term paper along with it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

More "Big" Ideas

Ok so maybe I have gotten a little carried away with this big car idea, but it is fun for me. Besides I forgot to share my favorite idea. If I were to name my own big car, it would be the Juggernaut. That's right. Maybe there is a market for cars made with superhero names like Superman, Batman, or the Hulk. I'll feel the market out with that one. Also I think it would be a good idea to name some vehicles after dinosaurs. After all they have mystique and also connote size. I am thinking for our first line we could have the T-Rex, Velociraptor (sports car) and Stegosaurs. It is just a start, but there is a long list of names to choose from.

What it boils down to I think is that there are too many companies in the market now, and too many cars. Ford, Chrysler, and GM know this first hand. They were used to huge percentages of the market share, and cry when their share is lost to Toyota, Nissan and Honda. Such is business. The other extreme though is a country like India which had a state owned auto-industry which produced a small amount of inferior vehicles without much choice or variation on the vehicles they produced. So in the end I guess I prefer the free market method that we employ today. Especially if someone is interested in my name ideas.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The bigger the better

Alright, I finally got around to writing something that I have been thinking about for a while now. How big can vehicles get? It is getting out of control. Believe me, I am a devout capitalist, and I believe in free market, and I recognize that the only reason these vehicle exist is because people want them, but when is enough enough? I used to drive around in a Ford Probe, which is a very small car, and I thought to myself that the bumper of these vehicles is at my eye level. If they broadsided me I would be killed. Something has to change. Even the names of the vehicles connote largeness. Titan, Tundra, Expedition, are just a few. Nissan in fact seems to be leading the way with the large vehicle line, but let's not forget about the line of Hummers, which while they have gotten smaller since the first commercial hummer was made available, they are still grossly oversized. I would like to see a movement away from this trend.

However you know what they say...if you can't beat em join em. So I think I will. In fact I have a few ideas for car names that might prove catchy. I am going to patent them and then sell the rights to the name to which ever company wishes to use the name. Here is a sample of the names I have come up with so far: Mammoth, Colossus, Titanic, are some of the names I was thinking may fit. I also think we should create a line of vehicles names after Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, and Aphrodite (2 door for the dating scene) are some of the ones that might work. Otherwise maybe we should name them after continents to show their size: Antarctica is a good one, America is also nice, but for the largest of course it would be called Asia. Only the most confidence damaged people would need to drive around in a vehicle named after the largest continent in the world, but I think there is a market there. Anyways, those are just my thoughts, tell me what you think, maybe we can go into business together.