Teaching: What Matters to Me

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You wake up at 5:30 in the morning in order to arrive at work early to get grading done and copies made before the craziness begins. You have 27 different responsibilities and three minutes to use the bathroom. You have to juggle standardized test prep and meaningful student learning. This is life as a teacher.

Teaching is a calling that requires energy, enthusiasm, passion, and a willingness to work with all types of students. While some may get overwhelmed or annoyed with teenagers, I love their energy, their tenacity, their individuality, and even their craziness. Each day, even each class period, is its own adventure. Throughout the course of the year, through the highs and the lows, we connect and learn about the world around us. They discover ideas and concepts that they may have never considered.

My philosophy on education centers heavily around critical thinking and the use of logic. My response to the craziness of this hyper-political and hyper-partisan world is to focus my students on three things:

 1.) How do we research, acquire knowledge, and understand bias?

2.) How do we cultivate the ability to listen?

3.) How do we have respectful and meaningful conversations about important political, social and philosophical issues?

In the scope of what I teach, I try to give my students as much practice in developing the above three skills. Unfortunately, public education, far too often, focuses mostly on teaching students how to perform well on tests instead of teaching and instilling a love of learning. In this sense, I view my role as an educator and coach as one where I need to teach my students how to learn and how to search for truth. 

Yes, I care about my content. Yes, I care about standards. Nevertheless, there must be a higher goal than state standards. 

I expect much from my students in terms of high-order thinking, yet they still really enjoy my class. In fact, Socratic seminar social issue discussions are usually the seniors’’ favorite part of my class. We talk about difficult things. Students need to be exposed to ideas and viewpoints contrary or different to the ones they already know. As educators, we need to ask ourselves if we are actually having our students engage that part of the brain.

Many of these things are just as true in coaching. You cannot just view your coaching position as an x’s and o’s job. It is about the growth of the individual in all parts of their life, not just athletically. They are student-athletes. Their academic and personal responsibilities are more important than the sport. If they were not taking care of business in their classes and in their lives, they could not perform at their best.  

This is where the teaching part of coaching comes in. Maybe some of your athletes never learned this. Maybe some of them come from families with uninvolved parents or single-parent homes where mom or dad is trying their best. Part of the coaching rule is teaching and showing student-athletes how to perform at their best in all aspects of life. There is an incredible aspect to this where you, as the coach, can model how to handle losses as well as win with humility. 

The challenging part of coaching for me was figuring out that many athletes struggle with constructive criticism anymore. Whether it was sitting down to talk with them or holding them accountable during practice and games, it was evident that some of them bristled at any criticism. I worry about what this will mean in their future when they face evaluations at work. While this part of coaching was difficult, the relationships and seeing athletes work to succeed more than made up for that challenge. 

In my 8 year education journey, these are the questions I have come back to quite often: 

“If the ultimate achievement in education is to get a specific score on the ACT/SAT and graduate high school with a certain GPA, I feel like, collectively, we have failed in education. Where is their wonder? Where is their joy of acquiring knowledge? Where is the idea that the whole world awaits them in their pursuit of their own truths as well as objective ones? 

Every day I teach, I am working towards enabling my students to have wonder, to have a joy of learning, and encouraging them towards pursuing truth. We will read primary source documents. We will have meaningful conversations about important topics. We will learn how to think rationally. I have not perfected it but I am always improving! Education is my passion and I am lucky for it.

Samuel Ashmore

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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