RICHARDSON: We should know they can

April 13, 2014 

“I get so frustrated because I know we’re so much better than that.”

-- Geno Auriemma, coach of the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team

ESPN’s Holly Rowe asked Coach Auriemma why he was still coaching late in the game with a 21-point lead in the NCAA National Championship game Tuesday night? In his answer, he solved the problem with public education.

Auriemma has the attitude I’d like to see everyone in education, public and private, have: constantly coaching because they know their students are “so much better than that.” Unfortunately, there are some who don’t believe it. They gripe about the product they get and use a student’s socioeconomic status as a crutch to prop up failure.

I’m reminded of Vivian Hatcher, a little lady who was barely 100 pounds, if that. She stood as a giant because she believed. She made her teachers believe. She made her students and parents believe, too. I’ve told this story many times. It’s etched into my memory. The day Hatcher’s school, Burke Elementary located in the ’hood, was named the top performing school in Bibb County, a teacher at another school, not in the ’hood, when hearing the news, told me, “That can’t be right. Those children can’t learn.”

While Auriemma gets the pick of high school recruits and has the expectation of winning the NCAA every year, he knows that if he doesn’t do his job by getting his athletes to believe, title hopes are out of the question.

But what happens if our teachers and principals don’t believe? The consequences are more than a failed run at an athletic title. Their students will never get into the game.

According to “How to be an Effective Teacher” by Harry and Rosemary Wong, “A teacher’s role is to open the door to learning. Effective master teachers know how to get their students to enter for learning.” It all starts with a belief that they can do it.

I’m sure there were those who thought it was next to impossible for a school’s men’s and women’s teams to grab NCAA titles in the same year. UConn has done it twice. On the men’s side, UConn went in as a seventh seed and won it all. Why? Talent, of course. Good coaching played its part, but more than that, the players believed. They didn’t sulk when they saw the bracket that would have them play Villanova, a No. 2 seed, Iowa State, a No. 3 seed, Michigan State, a No. 4 seed and undefeated Florida, a No. 1 seed and the No. 1 ranked team in the country. The UConn men believed. Their second year coach, Kevin Ollie, believed, too.

I know teachers and administrators are frustrated by the conditions some of their students have to live in. They are frustrated by their students’ parents. They are frustrated at how those parents send their children off to school -- without a meal, barely dressed with soiled clothes and unkempt hair -- but that frustration needs to fuel the fire to do everything in their power to see that child succeed in spite of those obstacles.

In Bibb County, the CRCT will be conducted Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. For third, fifth- and eighth-graders, the tests determine if students move on to the next grade level. If you were a fly on the wall of almost any classroom last week, you would hear that day’s lesson pertained to the CRCT. The children are worried, and the teachers are stressed and so are parents who have the wherewithal to be worried and stressed.

One more parable and I’m through. A couple of weekends ago a neighbor was teaching two children to graduate from riding a scooter to riding a bicycle without training wheels. They were scared, but he kept encouraging them, holding their seats to keep their balance until they caught the hang of it. He didn’t give up, and neither should our teachers when all seems in vain. Keep coaching, hold them up until they get the hang of it, and keep believing they can do it, because, like riding a bike, we should know they can.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet @crichard1020.

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