Why multitasking allows excellence to develop
One of the largest drawbacks to teaching in my elementary school is that the students leave by the age of ten. This is akin to planting your yard with beautiful bulbs in the fall, carefully selecting the location for each one, preparing the soil, purposefully placing the bulb in the ground and waiting for spring. Spring arrives, the bulbs begin to sprout, their green shoots breaking the surface, but you move away, never seeing the fruits of your labor.
In some ways elementary school is much the same, as we teach the students’ letters and numbers, reading, writing, and mathematics which are the basic foundational elements essential for acquiring knowledge.
We help them build friendships and share their feelings, and just as they are beginning to develop a working knowledge of these skills, we watch them walk away.
How will they turn out?
Who will they become?
What will they do?
Some will come back to visit, others we will read about in the newspaper, or the district newsletter, but for many, the impact of our teaching on their early years is largely a mystery. What impact did my teaching have, I am left to wonder?
These questions are one reason in which I love coaching and being involved in athletics at the high school level. Currently, after school I am working at track meets, volleyball matches and baseball games; in the winter I work at basketball games, and in the fall I coach soccer. All of these activities provide me with many opportunities to see former students growing and developing which is a priceless treat. I have the opportunity to talk to them about colleges, future majors, and life plans. As a coach I’m able to teach them life lessons and express positive values in ways that are quite different from the classroom.
These opportunities are but another valuable way for our students and teachers to interact and expand the educational process. They are – neither the sole, nor most important reason for schools to focus resources, including money and time, on activities other then academics. My sister, Amber Kane, would disagree with me on this point as she feels that, schools
“… as they make an attempt to be both a place for education, and an athletic training center, they do both poorly.”
I am prepared to agree with her on this point, but it needs to be expanded to include music, theater, and art as well. For every subject or activity a student is involved in, another activity or subject is left behind, causing both, as she would say to be done poorly. But as I time the races on the track, put points onto the scoreboard, and make coaching decisions on the pitch, I realize that it’s not the school’s job to focus on one area, nor is it even the school’s job to achieve excellence in any one area. Focus and achieving excellence are the domain of the student; by providing students with options, the student can seek their passion, and if they so choose, they can pursue this passion to the best of their ability. Excellence comes from within, schools with the best teachers still have students that fail, sports programs with the best coaches and facilities still lose. The institution cannot create excellence; however, it can create a culture where excellence can be pursued. By multitasking in our schools, students can follow their internal motivations and passions for their craft, thus developing excellence.
As an educator and coach, I am able to pursue excellence in my teaching and coaching, but I cannot possibly demand the same from all of my students because there would be no time for other pursuits. Our lives and our culture are diverse and creative because we have different interests and passions and we live in a society that rewards our various pursuits. No one individual is responsible for this diversity; it is achieved by presenting individuals with various stimuli from an early age.
We teach them to read, write, add, and subtract.
We teach them to read a musical note and to draw a picture.
We teach them to run and jump.
Then we allow them to pursue their passion.
If our schools became singularly focused academic institutions we would be no closer to achieving academic excellence then we are today. Why? Because every student is already given opportunities to pursue academic excellence, and those with the passion are grabbing this opportunity with both hands. Instead, we would assure ourselves that a complete lack of excellence would develop in the areas our schools choose to exclude, and we would lose the students who are only kept in the academic game by the pursuit of their alternative interests, be they music, art, or sports.