How the LLWS Can Change the Discussion on Education

Who was your favorite teacher? No, seriously. This only works if you play along. So, think about it. Ready? Okay. Who is it? And, more important, why did you pick that person? I’ll bet you smiled just thinking about it.

Now, name your favorite test. Go on. Need more time? We’ve got all the time in the world. I’ll bet you still can’t do it.

One last question: Why are people celebrating the Rhode Island coach from the LLWS? That’s an easy one, if you’ve seen any news channel, sports channel, newspaper, or social media outlet in the past few days. People are praising and loving Dave Belisle. And, they absolutely should be. He took a group of devastated young players and gave them the speech of a lifetime. Dave transcended the role of coach and became a mentor, counselor, cheerleader, and confidante in those few minutes on the field. In other words, he became a teacher.

So, in the middle of thBaseball by Joel Dindais war on teachers, why is this guy getting so much attention and so many accolades? He simply was talking to a bunch of kids. They didn’t even win. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is, he has built a relationship with those kids. You can see the pride in his eyes, and you can hear the love in his voice as he addresses his players. He is their Coach. They showed up to practice for him. They missed family gatherings and summer holiday fun time for him. They hustled around the bases and off the fields for him. And, they gathered around him when they most needed comfort after their heartbreaking loss.

You see, he does deserve the attention he is getting. He took the time to get to know those players and encourage them to be their very best, for months. He challenged them and pushed them, and they made it all the way to the Little League World Series. They probably exceeded their expectations and their predicted performance levels that were set on that very first day of practice, oh so long ago. So, I’m not too far off when I call him a teacher, am I?

The glaring disparity between this coach and a teacher is that the public at large has embraced him as a role model and a hero among men while they criticize, belittle, and attack teachers who do the very same things. And, don’t forget, teachers do these things for kids on a daily basis, outside of the limelight and often without the support of parents. I’m not saying teachers are better than this coach. I AM saying that teachers deserve the same respect as this coach.

But, this guy’s kids are losers: they’ve been eliminated. They weren’t proficient in the game of baseball. Where’s his improvement plan? Where’s his cut in pay? Where’s his constant monitoring and evaluating of scores and performance? It seems ridiculous to even ask these questions because it is ridiculous. These are kids. They were playing baseball. There has to be a losing team because it’s a game. But, they played their hearts out for their Coach, and they gave it their all because that’s what he taught them to do.

And yet, we hold teachers responsible for the very same things that seem so ridiculous for a baseball coach. The students taking those high-stakes tests that determine their teachers’ evaluations and, oftentimes, their schools’ funding levels, are kids. And, those kids need love and praise and encouragement just like Dave’s players; the sad thing is, they often need it most after they have lost the testing game despite putting in so much effort all year long. In spite of it all, kids are learning so many things as they make their way through school, thanks to the teachers who don’t think the assessments are the be-all and end-all of the public education system.

Teachers will tell you that education is not a game, but the assessment companies (aka Pearson) and state and federal governments have turned it into a game by incentivizing education and declaring that it’s a “Race to the Top.” Whose scores can improve the most and the fastest? Which kids can be declared proficient? And, even worse, Pearson and the state of New York reportedly changed the rules of the game while it was being played, by toying with the number of questions students needed to get correct in order to be declared proficient.

LLWSIt’s amazing how hard kids will work when they have a person that they know, trust, and respect leading them. The same certainly cannot be said about kids who are being taught with technology and computer systems that assess the daylights out of them. When you take the teachers out of teaching, you take the kids’ motivation and effort in learning along with them.

So, Dave Belisle should be your favorite coach. And, the next time that you share or comment on that video of his speech, or even talk about it at your own kid’s Fall ball practice, point out that those coaches are teachers, whether they have an education degree or not. You just may get people thinking about all that teachers do for kids, and you may just start to change the discussion about public education in this country.

Then, send your favorite teacher a thank-you note. It’s the least you could do.

Baseball image via Flickr by Joel Dinda

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