Opinion
Professional Development Opinion

Teaching, Like Golf, Is ‘No Easy Game’

August 15, 2017 4 min read

By Allison Riddle

The statistics are not just alarming. They’re downright ugly. An estimated 8 percent of teachers leave American classrooms within the first year, and even worse, 40 to 50 percent leave by their fifth year.

It’s not surprising, really. Truth is, we’ve made it too easy for them.

Too easy to quit.

We cast our newest teachers into the most challenging classrooms and expect them to ‘sink or swim.’ At the same time, teaching today demands a greater depth of knowledge and preparation than ever before. Even with a traditional university background, teaching, in many ways, is like learning to use a set of specialized tools, but the tools and techniques elude us at first. In fact, learning to teach reminds me in many ways of learning to golf.

Like golf, teaching is a lot harder than it looks. Golf involves a complex set of skills that are difficult to master and execute at just the right times. When I first started golfing, I was drawn to the beautiful courses and challenge of mastering the game. I had learned to swing a club, but I really didn’t know anything about the nuances of the game.

Like learning to golf, when teachers first begin, they also struggle to master complex skills. Most enter the classroom with a basic understanding of pedagogy but very little practical experience. They are drawn to the seemingly green, lush fairways of teaching, but very soon they realize teaching is no easy game. The course each week is so different, with unexpected obstacles and some pretty difficult approaches.

Giving mulligans for hard shots sends the wrong message. In my first few seasons of golf, my husband always had a few tips to offer, but he was never overly concerned with my poor performance. Whenever I was faced with a really challenging shot, he gave me a mulligan. I was saved nearly every time— which made me enjoy golfing at first. He kept insisting golf was hard, and I would get the hang

of it at some point.

We give new teachers that same allowance, knowing that teaching is difficult and it is typical to struggle at first. When we find them in the rough, we pat them on the back, tell them not to sweat the small stuff, and encourage them to stay with it. In a way, we give new teachers mulligans all the time. And yet, our lack of personalized feedback may be sending the message that we don’t expect excellence yet. We are just glad they are filling that spot on the roster.

Without meaningful feedback, new teachers struggle needlessly. By my third year on the golf course, I began to realize I didn’t like that I had never really learned how to perform the toughest shots. When I did try to figure out an approach on my own, I found myself swinging entirely too hard. I rarely got the outcome I wanted.

When our newest teachers struggle, we may suggest they find an online video that demonstrates good practice, but we don’t take the time often enough to personally film our new teachers and review the footage with them, pointing out those parts of their ‘swings’ that need to be adjusted. By not closely coaching our newest teachers, we send the message that we are comfortable giving them a mulligan for the hard shots, and that we may expect them to just figure it out on their own.

We lose some of our best players too early. I finally realized I wasn’t very skilled at golf, and given the time and investment required for the game, I was left uninspired. I quit golfing because I never found a deep satisfaction in the game. There were, it seemed, just too many skills involved in hitting a sweet shot every time and scoring well.

As our newest teachers struggle, we lose many prospective master teachers before they reach their fourth season. They become uninspired by the length of time it takes to develop and fine tune instructional skills and confidence with classroom management. Add to that compensation that doesn’t match the investment of education and time, and many novice teachers willingly quit the game.

Coaching will keep many in the game. Ultimately, I did return to the game of golf. I hired a golf pro to analyze my swing and teach me how to read each shot. I was embarrassed at first, but he was empathetic to my awkwardness. The one-on-one coaching I received by a professional was invaluable, and I found myself golfing with greater confidence and success. I wouldn’t take mulligans anymore. I didn’t want them. And ultimately, I didn’t need them.

I challenge every veteran teacher or administrator to ask themselves, what am I doing to closely coach and motivate the newest teachers in our school? How often do I give authentic feedback focused on specific instructional skills? Are there opportunities for these teachers to be filmed by an instructional coach who is trained to point out the subtleties of great instruction? How does my leadership inspire excellence in these teachers? What can I do this school year to motivate these teachers and help them begin what could be sustainable careers?

If we want to reduce the disheartening numbers of teachers leaving the profession, we must offer comprehensive coaching for their skill development and ability to read the toughest shots in teaching. Our students deserve an effective teacher in every classroom, but giving mulligans for mediocre performance will not inspire nor retain new teachers.

Allison Riddle is the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She is the Elementary Mentor Supervisor for Davis District in Northern Utah.

Photo credit: Creative Commons through Pexels: //static.pexels.com/photos/274262/pexels-photo-274262.jpeg

The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Return of the In-Person Edu-Conference: Elementary Principals' Group to Meet in Chicago
Registration for the organization's first in-person conference since the pandemic started is keeping apace with that of previous years.
4 min read
Abstract blurred image of attendees in seminar room or conference hall and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. new normal life concept.
Pratchaya/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Professional Development Some Kids Had a 'Choppy' K-12 Experience This Year. ISTE Will Explore Solutions
Big themes at this year's online-only ed-tech conference will include acceleration and finding K-12's way in a new, more virtual world.
2 min read
Image of a student working on a computer from home.
iStock/Getty
Professional Development How to Fix 7 Fatal Flaws in Tech Professional Development
One silver lining of the pandemic is that it forced some districts to rethink their PD priorities and find new ways of training teachers.
8 min read
A team analyses data and tracks progress
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus
Professional Development Opinion How Can Coaches Use a Cycle of Inquiry to Establish Themselves and Help Others?
A cycle of inquiry can both help coaches establish themselves and help those they coach develop areas of improvement.
10 min read
shutterstock 546692113
Shuttestock