THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Sean Ryan
Chairperson of the Board of Directors
As a college professor, I find myself feverishly grading copious amounts of assignments and tests to meet the ever-looming deadline for final grades when the semester begins to wind down. Around the same time, however, I reflect on the overall performance of my students and their contributions to the wider field of academia.
College is a different beast than high school (or at least it’s supposed to be). Almost all college students are legal adults and are given sole responsibility for their work. Qualities such as class participation, attitude, and punctuality fall solely on their shoulders, rather than connecting home to parents or guardians who may assist along the educational path at lower levels. The communication required between students and professors is valued so differently in higher education that it can literally impact and influence grades.
However, it feels like more and more students are failing every semester. Sure, a substantial part of this comes from changes in culture that make students lazy or entitled. However, what’s concerning is that these students lack the skills and ability to be an effective member of a class. In other words, they don’t know how to be a student, a role that requires the ability to listen, take notes, organize, adapt, think critically, and, perhaps most importantly, ask questions.
Liken the setting of a college course to any sports team and you’ll begin to see similarities. It’s no surprise that the players on the team usually want to be part of the team! They understand what it takes to participate, both as players and as teammates. Players who don’t want to be there (or who lack the understanding of their role and responsibility) find themselves either not playing, losing, or removed from the team.
Good players also ask questions. They seek to better understand the strategy so they can do their part. They choose a tone that emits an innocent curiosity and desire to succeed, not to be the center of attention or question the authority of the coach.
Students in a college course need to do the same thing. They need to want to be part of the class (or at least understand the responsibility of partaking in the class, even if they might disagree with the requirement to take the class). They also need to hold up their end of the bargain by participating and completing assignments. Students who don’t do these things end up failing.
Good students also ask questions. They seek to better understand the material. They have a genuine desire for information, not for being insubordinate or usurping the authority of a professor.
Curiosity, when supported by solid communication skills, has the power to foster a strong connection between students and professors, much like it can between players and coaches. Is it surprising that the students and players who participate in this manner are more likely to succeed? Is it a coincidence that those who succeed can then help other students or teammates succeed?
I like to end every class meeting by asking my students, “What kind of question might someone have regarding what we discussed today?” At worst, it forces students to review and reflect on the material. At best, it gives an outgoing student the chance to help someone who might be too timid.
In closing, to quote David S. Pumpkins, “Any questions?”