I was watching Tiger and Phil and Bubba duffing it out at the US Open last night at Olympic and I got to thinking that teaching is lot like playing golf. No, it really is. You face the tee all alone, the crowd can turn on you at any time and sometimes what looks like a good shot can end up in the rough any way. Then you have to use all your skill and composure to get back on the fairway.
It’s true. Yes, you do rely on the kindness of colleagues, but when that bell rings and you close the door, it’s show time. You face the daunting task of daily instruction on your own. Like players on the PGA tour, you refine your game every day, adjusting the pacing, trying out a new stance. Sometimes it’s all good and you can’t miss. It seems effortless. Other times, though, it’s nothing but frustration. No matter what you do, it’s a slice, a hook or a shank. The harder you try, the farther afield you end up.
That’s when you turn to the gadgets. The accessories promise results. In golf, if you get the “right” ball or that new titanium club the pros are all using, you really do believe your game might suddenly improve exponentially. The same is true with the bells and whistles in teaching. Effective instruction has become all about the next new device that will instantly support student success, Smartboards and i Pads promising enticing results. You want to believe that these aids will help your pupils, you really do. But when it’s “tee time” (tee standing here for “testing”), it’s about skills not frills. Then it is back to basics: a comfortable grip, smooth swing, and strong follow through. That’s what you need to see your kids through the stress of standardized testing that has become the scorecard of instruction.
And then sometimes it’s about luck. You get a good roll on an OK shot. In teaching, sometimes a kid asks the question you needed someone to pose but forgot to embed in the lesson. But even luck presupposes skills.
In golf, even on your worst day, though, there is always that one hole that keeps you coming back for more. It’s that tee shot that you somehow land on the green and birdie. It’s that seemingly impossible maneuver out of the sand trap. And it happens in teaching, too. It’s the graphic organzier you dream up at the last minute. It’s the writing assignment that gives every kid a chance to rock. It’s what keeps you rewriting curriculum, finding new hooks, grading papers.
So as I watch the pros in prime time tonight (you gotta love a west coast Open), I’ll be thinking about Monday. It’s the last week of school and that means the first week of golf. But I think when you’re a teacher, whatever you do comes back to the classroom in one way or another.