While conversations with Fulbright Scholars and award winning writers from the Washington Post have found their way onto this blog, I recently discovered that Hall of Fame football player Mike Singletary also has something to say that is worth sharing on the topics of teaching and education. I had the chance to speak with Mike for about an hour on February 6th, 2014. Some of our discussion was one-on-one while some of it came during a Q & A session with students from the school at which I teach. Most of our conversation centered on what it means to be a male student in the 21st century. The audio of that conversation is here:
In a subsequent conversation on the same day, I also had the chance to ask Mike, “What is one thing that every good teacher does?” This may seem odd to ask a football player, but keep in mind that he is also a coach - which makes him a teacher. With that said, I think his response is worth hearing. He shared a story of an English teacher from his college days – a teacher that everyone disliked. After submitting his very first assignment, this particular teacher called Mike out in front of the entire class by demanding aloud, “You will never turn in something this poor again.” For most students, this would have been humiliating. But not for Mike – instead, it propelled him forward in a very powerful way. In reflecting on this experience, Mike says, “I realized that great teachers do three things. They don’t let you off the hook. They set high standards. And they walk alongside you as you seek to reach those standards."
My conversation with Mike got me thinking about the relationship between standards and success. The debate on standards (who should set them, what they should include and how they should be used) has been raging in recent years. Some argue that standards suffocate the teacher, while others argue that standards are necessary to insure equity in our schools. Some argue that the states should be autonomous in their setting of standards, and others point to those states with very low and poorly written standards as evidence that the state-model is broken. Whatever one thinks about standards, I wonder if we could agree on this: As Mike alluded to, the "alongside" relationship (teacher-student or parent-student) that develops in the pursuit of meeting a standard needs more of the spotlight, for it is likely more powerful than any state or federal mandate could ever be.