A little over a year ago Netflix released a documentary telling the stories of people in Scooba, a small town in the southern state of Mississippi, USA. The main characters are the players, coaches, and staff of the Football (American style) team at East Mississippi Community College. The players at this community college are young men who usually, for one reason or another, were rejected or kicked-off of powerhouse university teams. This small town, with it’s community college, has gained relevance as the home of what has come to be known as ‘Last Chance University’. A place for young men who’ve made mistakes off the field, to possibly earn another shot at stardom by cleaning their slate and starting fresh. Sports have always played a huge role in my life and I draw many lessons from my experiences as a player, coach, referee, and fan. So as I binge-watched my way through Season One, I was learning a lot and praying for a Season Two.
Season Two of Last Chance U was recently released and started off with audio of a preacher in front of a congregation, sharing a story about Coach Buddy Stephens of East Mississippi Community College (aka Last Chance U). Viewers of Season One know him as a fiery, foul-mouthed football coach whose team ended their season in the most unfortunate of ways (you’ll have to watch for details, no spoilers here!) Now, as Season Two begins, Coach Buddy has watched Season One of the documentary and, as the preacher tells us, “As he watched himself on that screen, he didn’t like what he saw. Can you imagine if a documentary was made about your life? And they followed you, the good, and the bad, and the ugly?”
The preacher was heading in a more existential direction with his sermon than I’m going to go in here but his main point really hit home with me. What would we see if we could watch ourselves, filmed and edited from an outsider’s perspective, and would we like what we saw? Now, before we get too deep into this thought exercise, I’d like to narrow our focus a little more. Instead of trying to imagine your whole life, start with your professional life. What would a documentary based on your life as an educator reveal to both you and the world?
I believe that most of us are like Coach Buddy, in that we would look at a documentary about our life and see areas for growth. However, unlike the now (in)famous Junior College football coach, we are probably not going to have the luxury/burden of Netflix deciding to make a documentary about our professional lives. This means that, in order to get that outside, ‘documentarian’, perspective on our educational story we’ll need assistance from someone other than a Netflix camera crew.
As educators we’re lucky, we’re surrounded by others who are just as keen to learn and grow as we are. We’ve got colleagues who know and understand our craft, able to provide feedback, conversation, and strategies for growth. Similarly, we’ve got students who see, hear, and evaluate much of what we do professionally. The resources to produce our own documentary script are there and, while we’re not being filmed 24-7, we are certainly being watched. In this way we are more lucky that Coach Buddy, we don’t need a documentary to provide us feedback.
Where the challenge lies for us as educators, in an insulated community, is facing the reality of needing to grow and finding the proper motivation to do so. Coach Buddy didn’t have much of a choice, the whole world was watching the same documentary as him. He realized that without changes, the same mistakes were going to keep repeating themselves for the whole world to see. In education, just as in sports, mistakes can cost you dearly and if we want to improve we need to acknowledge those areas where growth is needed. While parallels can certainly be drawn between sports and education, we’re not playing a game when we enter the classroom each day, the results mean much more to our students than a simple W or L.
I’d like to ask that you’re actively reflecting on your practice as educators. If you’re a returning teacher you’ve worked with our Performance Appraisal Rubric (PAR) in the past and have a starting point for setting some goals for this year. If you’re new to the school, think back to your past practice and begin to identify areas where you know you can grow, areas that will positively impact our students’ learning. We will begin to officially document goals and move to reflection together in the coming weeks. While there won’t be any Netflix camera crews, there will be ups and downs, wins and losses, and without a doubt – a lot of learning and growth.