I’ve been playing golf for a long time, but since I starting teaching I’ve had the school year and the golf season. By only playing golf in the summers it has remained separate in my brain from teaching, very compartmentalized. However, for the first time I’ve actually started to blend the two together and recently I realized that golf and teaching are actually very similar challenges.
If you’ve never played golf, don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep the technical golf-speak out of the conversation. Teacher-speak, as a fair warning, I’ll have a hard time avoiding!
Golf separates itself from most other sports by being, at the same time, one of the most frustrating and enjoyable games in the world. One day you’ll absolutely love every second of the game and the next you’ll swear that you’ll never play again. In fact, those sentiments frequently occur multiple times within the same round of golf. Whether it’s day-by-day or lesson-by-lesson, teaching is also full of ups and downs. Just as in golf, with teaching we know that even on the worst days, during the worst lessons, there will always be something that reminds you of why you love what you’re doing with your students. In golf there’s always that really good shot, even on your worst day, that excites you to the point that you want to go through it all again. Even on your longest day at school, what is it that excites you and gives you the energy to do it all again?
While anyone can play, golf isn’t easy and it takes a lot of time and energy to be good. Think back to your first year(s) of teaching and imagine how much you’ve improved since those early days. It takes time, making mistakes (lots of them), practice, coaching, and dedication to become a good teacher. The same is true of golf. Hours and hours of practice to develop just the right plan for your swing, costly mistakes that ruin an otherwise great round, and your patience being tested by the same annoying bad shot over and over again. Does any of that sound familiar to you as a teacher? Unit and lesson plans, taking risks and trying new teaching strategies (some work, others don’t), and students who do the same things no matter how many times you ask them not to. Every golfer has areas of growth, even the #1 ranked player in the world isn’t perfect on the course…I encouraged you to reflect on your practice last week, have you identified your target area(s) of growth?
In golf it’s important to know yourself and where your strengths lie. Occasionally it is important, or even necessary, to try new things. You might decide to try a new putting grip, new golf clubs, or even a new mental approach. Sometimes these things work and end up becoming an important part of your overall game. However, it’s important to know your major strengths and remain focused on maximizing those parts of your game; trying too many new things will lead to a loss of focus and wasted energy. The same is true in teaching. Over the years we’ve all developed skills and strategies that work for us in the planning process and in the classroom. In order to keep growing we need to be open to trying new ideas but it’s important to know our strongest skills and ensure that they are being maximized. Just as it’s important to reflect and identify areas for growth, the same is true for your strengths – identify your strengths and utilize them to maximum benefit.
Whether you’re on the golf course or in the classroom you’re on an amazing roller coaster ride. You’ll scream and shout, you’ll laugh and cry, but at the end of it all you’ll pull into the station and (most likely, hopefully) want to ride again. By pinpointing what, exactly, it is that excites you about teaching, you’ll tap into a source of energy that will get you through the low points and give you the drive and determination to push forward. Identifying areas for growth will provide you with the opportunity to continue growing as a professional and allow you to feel the impact that even the smallest changes can have on your students’ learning. Through it all, riding the tide of your strengths as a teacher will carry you, and your students, to great success despite the inevitable ups and downs you’ll experience.
We may not beat Jack Nicklaus or Annika Sorenstam on the golf course and people probably won’t confuse any of us with Anne Sullivan or Ron Clark in the classroom but there’s no reason that we can’t move a little bit closer each day. To be the best we have to aspire to grow and improve, we have to practice and reflect, and we have to enjoy the ride. Take a few moments today to think about the three points above and see if you can’t answer these questions:
What excites me about teaching?
What is one, high-leverage, area of growth for my teaching?
What are my strengths as a teacher and how do I use them to drive my teaching?