Too many teachers are asked to coach

Many changes have occurred in secondary education during my lifetime, but perhaps none greater than the number of teachers who have added coaching to their resume.

It’s not incompatible or inconceivable for teachers to coach and coaches to teach. After all, a good coach is usually good at teaching the aspects of a particular sport to student-athletes. However, it’s not fair to assume or expect that all teachers make good coaches.

When school districts hire a teacher to fill a position, my hunch is that all things being equal, they prefer that teachers have the ability to coach one or more sports as well.

When a football or basketball coach resigns and elects to stay in the school district as a teacher, smaller school districts like those in Marion County are at a disadvantage. If you only have a couple of openings for certain academic subjects, the challenge is finding a coach who also is qualified to teach the classroom subjects.

In a perfect world, the school district would find the best teacher it can to teach a particular subject and not worry about whether the person can coach, but I’ve been told we’re not living in a perfect world.

Brent Dickerson was a teacher when he wrote an opinion column for the Amarillo Globe-News. He said: “Public schools often hold athletics on a much higher platform than academics. Many schools don’t ask their teachers to coach; they ask coaches to teach.

“When I apply for jobs as a social studies teacher, the first thing asked of me is either: ‘What can you coach?’ or ‘Do you have any preference in coaching?’ This shows me the priority we put on social studies.

“The fact that this is the first question shows me that coaching is No. 1, and social studies teaching is secondary. It is sometimes said we cannot serve two masters. We can either coach well or teach well, but we cannot do both—and because coaching is first priority, the classroom becomes the place where time and effort is lost.”

I would argue that many coaches are also good classroom teachers. It’s certainly not fair to lump all coaches into the category of poor teachers.

However, I would also argue that because of all the sports being offered in schools, there are times when teachers are being asked to do something that is not their strength—namely coaching.

Not all coaches and teachers are created equal. Let’s assume most are better suited for one than the other, although one hopes the difference between coaching and classroom teaching ability is relatively minor.

And when push comes to shove, guess who parents are more likely to pressure if they feel that a coach or classroom teacher isn’t performing up to their satisfaction?

Coaches receive a mere pittance for the amount of time they spend coaching. In Kansas anyway, the bulk of their salary is because of their teaching assignment.

Public perception isn’t necessarily helpful.

Dickerson wrote: “While watching the television series ‘House,’ I was struck by an often-used phrase repeated by the always-brash Dr. Gregory House. He said, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.’

“The quote is not very flattering to anyone in the teaching field, but especially not to coaches. But as art often imitates life, the truth resonates in that quote.”

Dickerson argues that it’s time to put education before athletics in our society. He said: “Do we really want to live in a world where students in Europe, Asia and Australia know more about the history and civics of the U.S. than our own citizens?”

Dickerson and many educators are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to priorities for middle school and high school students.

Some say we need to raise taxes; others argue for cutting administration costs; and still others say we should reduce worthless federal mandates.

Dickerson says: “What­ever the answer, we will never find it if we do not actually put education first and everything else second. After all, what is the purpose of a public education system if not to educate?”

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein­sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. He can be reached at Joe.Klein­sasser@wichita.edu.