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Your Instructor as a Coach

You CAN Ace Calculus

17calculus > bags - supplies

Have you ever been embarrassed by or angry at an instructor for telling you that you are doing something wrong? I know I have and I am probably not alone. And some instructors seem overly harsh and brutal in their criticism.
As a math instructor, I will often hesitate before correcting a student since I never know how they will take it. Will they be mad at me for telling them that they made a mistake? But isn't that what I am supposed to do? It's a very difficult situation. But recently, I have changed the way I teach and I think it will help you, as a student, to understand this. Read on and I will explain why.

Sports Analogy

In sports, a coach is someone who helps the players be better players. For example, as a batting coach in baseball, the coach's job is to tell the player what they are doing wrong and explain how to correct it so that they can be a better batter. In American football, the quarterback coach's job is to point out to a quarterback the mistakes that they make and help them correct the mistakes so that they can be a better quarterback.

So my job, as a teacher, is to point out mistakes my students are making so that they understand the material and are able to apply what they are learning, which will lead to better grades.

How This Helps You As A Student

As a student, you can look to your instructor as a coach and, when he/she points out something you are doing incorrectly, adjust what you are doing and then work to understand why the new way is correct and the old way was wrong. But your instructor can't help you if you don't let them.

So you may be asking, what if my teacher is not acting like a coach? What if they are putting me down when I make a mistake and making me feel bad? Isn't it their responsiblity to act like a coach before I can learn? Yes, it is their responsiblity but most teachers don't know how to act like a coach because they have never been taught how to do it. So it is up to you, as a student, to take responsibility for your learning and start thinking of your teacher as a coach. The strange thing is that, if you do this, many times your instructor will start acting like a coach without them even knowing what they are doing. That's right! You can change how your instructor is treating you by treating them differently. Interesting, eh?

Here is how you can start treating your instructor like a coach.

1. Understand that the way an instructor acts almost always comes from what they think about themselves. If they act superior or condescending, many times it is because they don't really feel that way inside. They have to act like that to make themselves feel better and it probably has nothing to do with you. (For more help on how to learn from any teacher, even a bad one, check out this page.)

2. Only you can take responsibility for your feelings. You can't blame anyone else for how you feel. So if you have an instructor that 'makes you feel bad,' think about where that is coming from. Are they REALLY being mean to you or did they just point out a mistake that you made when you feel like you have to be perfect? Mistakes are good since they tell you where you need to improve. If you were perfect, you wouldn't be in school learning. Mistakes are part of learning, so take the attitude that they help you.

3. If you truly have a bad teacher who is demeaning you, read this page on how to handle bad teachers.

4. Finally, no matter what their attitude is, treat them like a coach and thank them if they help you, even just a little bit. Then, go find help elsewhere, if you need to. Remember, you are in charge of your learning.

I Am An Instructor/COACH

As I said above, my job as an instructor is to help my students understand the material better and be able to use it. This will naturally lead to better grades. But I am not perfect, which means I make mistakes and continue to work to improve my skills. Recently I started changing my attitude and seeing myself as a coach.

So what does a coach look like?
1. A coach points out mistakes that his players are making and makes suggestions on ways to improve.
2. A coach cheers on his players when they do well.
3. A coach progressively becomes unnecessary as his players improve and reach, even exceed, his level of competence.
4. A coach wants to see his players becoming the best at what they do.
5. A coach also has to evaluate whether a player is listening and adjusting his game so that he is improving.
6. A coach communicates that he is working alongside his players, not above them. He has to be available and open to hearing his players questions and concerns. He has to listen more than he talks.
7. A good coach will give his players tools to continue to improve even after he is no longer their coach.

Now all this may sound glamorous and exciting but actually a coach's job is very unglamorous and it can be grinding. The job means sometimes he has to do difficult things, usually telling his players they are doing something wrong, so they can improve. He has to really know his job and learn how to communicate to different players in different ways. And, in the end, it is usually the player that gets the credit for what the coach teaches them, which is correct since the player decides whether or not to listen and incorporate what the coach is teaching them. But how many times have you heard a really good player thank a coach for helping him? I hear it a lot.

A coach's job becomes even more difficult when a player doesn't want to be coached. The player may think they have already arrived or they may get their feelings hurt when they are told they are doing something wrong. So you will learn more and get higher grades if you want to be coached and don't let your feelings affect your learning.

Even coach's have bad days and they don't always communicate in a kind way. But even then, if a teacher thinks of himself as a coach, then the majority of what he does and says will help his players. And that is the key to determine if a coach is doing his job . . . are his players improving and learning?

I am an instructor/coach. Are you ready to be coached?

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