Updated: January 23, 2012 2:34AM
Dr. Wallace: Recently, high school youngsters in Memphis, Tenn., wrote to you about their unfortunate circumstance of being in an English class taught by the basketball coach, who was preoccupied by his coaching and was not interested in teaching the subject. But your response missed the point entirely. And should the students follow your advice of meeting with the principal, they have a good chance of getting into trouble. Their plight is the same as that faced by thousands of concerned students throughout the nation. It is an everyday happening that plagues secondary education and is despised by conscientious teachers — including most coaches — throughout the nation.
In most school districts, the superintendent of schools, the school board and the principal collectively participate in the recruitment and selection of varsity coaches. The community wants a winning team, and if the coach doesn’t produce a winning team, he is fired. Those involved in the process also know when varsity coaches are hired that the coach will usually have to teach one or two courses in subjects that they have a minimum of knowledge and little or no interest in — traditionally math and science in junior high school and basic math and social studies in high school. This historic practice has had a baneful effect on education and is not the fault of the coaches — most of whom are very good people.
I doubt that these students complaining to the principal, who assigned the coach to teach the English class in the first place, will get any results. Neither will going to the superintendent who has coffee with the good old boys every weekday morning; some of are most likely on the school board and hold post-mortems on the varsity games. Sad as it may be, by following your advice, they have a greater chance of getting into trouble rather than bringing about a just reform, ESPECIALLY IF THE COACH HAS A WINNING VARSITY TEAM!!!
Retired Teacher, Odessa, Texas
Teacher: You watched the movie “Hoosiers” once too often. The vast majority of principals and school superintendents are dedicated professionals who understand that athletics play an important role in the entire educational structure, but they know that the prime goal for all students is a quality education provided by the best qualified teachers.
P.S.: I taught English and was the varsity basketball coach at La Quinta High School in Garden Grove, Calif., before becoming a high school principal. I hope this background didn’t affect my response to you.
When teaching, if I had been more preoccupied in coaching than in teaching English, I agree with you that I should have been removed from both teaching and coaching. However, we had winning teams and several of our players were also on the academic honor roll. I enjoyed watching our teams win, but never at the expense of classroom performance!