Teachers and Coaches as Cultural Warriors

Being a good man in this world is hard.

I have written and re-written this post several times.  I even deleted the file several times.  Every time I wrote something on this subject I felt like it wasn’t good enough.  So here is an attempt I think I like.

The initial sentence I wrote above the last statement is probably the truest statement I have written so far on this blog.  Being a good man is hard.  The sentence is so simple, but it is loaded with explosives.

Simply by writing about this subject I could be attracting people to my blog who will disagree with what I have to say or will criticize me for writing about something our society so desperately needs.  Our society needs good men.  My mother and father always told me that good people were needed in the world and I should be one of those good people.  Even if it was hard.

What does it even mean to be a good man?  Everyone and his or her brother have a gold standard that they think should be applied to every man.  When large groups of people being pressing their opinions on our boys the world become incredibly confusing and there is no doubt many of our boys are trying to sort this out.  They do what one person says and get hurt.  They then try something else and still they get hurt.  They look to the past and then are told they should stay away from those men from the past because they were horrible misogynistic people.  After all of this trying, the end result is a hurt and confused young man who is lost mentally and emotionally.

For example, I had a student come to me to ask for advice about girls.  I am not great with women, but I have been married to one for almost eight years, so I know a few things.  (I am sure if my wife reads this she will laugh because I am far from a smooth operator)  He asked me if he should be crying in front of women to get their sympathy and dates.  The girls around him at his table group looked at him like he was crazy.  He told me the reason he asked me was because he had heard that women like sensitive men and men that cry.  I told him that women like to be treated well, but that he shouldn’t be trying to whip up tears all the time.  The girls in his group agreed with me and he became perplexed.

Later in the year, I had the same boy come to me to ask for advice on asking a girl out that he liked.  I basically told him that he should just be confident and straight forward when asking if she wanted to do something.  I suggested something fun like a dinner and a movie.  Or since they are in middle school, to go out to lunch and hang out at the mall.  I also told him to remember that he should just ask her out quickly instead of hyping up the event in his mind and causing himself to panic.  He was worried about her saying no so I told him that even if she said no that there are more women than men in this country and to try asking someone else.  I told him the best way to ask out girls is to just be confident in himself and his abilities and if a girl wanted to go on a date with him great.  If not then he shouldn’t beat himself up over it.  He nodded and told me that he felt much better and would ask her out that afternoon.

The student above is an example of a boy who is really confused about what he should be doing.  He was worried that he was going to ask a girl out wrong or that he should be crying all the time to appear sensitive.  It is one thing to express grief, but to think that you can get dates out of it is a huge misconception.  I was happy I could be there for him, but how many boys are walking around with the same questions?  

Then there is the other end of the spectrum where many boys just give up or feel trapped.   Every year I see boys who wonder why they should try when they don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Others lash out in a variety of ways hoping to find themselves as they do things that are not healthy.  There is anger there.  There is sadness.  There is apathy.  There is just plain hopelessness.  We as a society and as teachers have to try help our boys feel like they can succeed as good men.

I know there is a shortage of men in the teaching field, since I have been teaching going on eight years now, but we have to try.  There are many women in the teaching field that do a great job as teachers of all of their students, but boys really need that male connection.  What if I wasn’t there for that boy to ask me his questions?  He probably would have continued on trying to figure it out on his own, struggled, and possibly given up or taken a less desirable path.

I also think that we have to convince our boys (and girls) that doing things that are considered “bad” is not a great way to go. So many of my students have experimented with things that have hurt them.  There are drugs, alcohol, and all kinds of activities that should never be touched by Middle Schoolers or high schoolers, yet I hear sad stories all the time.  The people who commit crimes are often who our children look up to just because they look exciting or maybe they are just the one who are there.  We have to do a better job of showing them that there is excitement in so many different facets of life and the subjects we teach.  We really don’t have a choice.  We must get them to understand that choosing a life free of the vices so many people want them to participate in is the only way to go.  We have to get through now.  Before it is too late and they can no longer be reached.

 Recently, I read John Harbaugh’s article called Why Football Matters, and totally agree with this statement, “Our football coaches are on the front lines of the battle for the hearts and minds of the young men in our society. The culture war is on and we see it every day. These young men are more vulnerable than ever.”  I coach soccer and I see the same things that he has been seeing on the football field.  Many of our young men are confused about a great deal of things.  They are looking to the wrong role models who celebrate a culture that will not bring stability.  Many of them are hungry for some kind of guidance that can help them through what the world has become. For many young men their coaches and teachers are the only people trying to make them see that they can succeed in the world by being respectable.

I have met many young men who feel trapped or simply do not have role models to show them how to be men.  I know I am not perfect, but I try my best to show them that they can succeed even if everyone they know and the world around them tells them that they cannot.  I spent lots of time on the soccer field teaching my athletes and in the classroom with my students that success is a choice each person has to make.  Just about everyone in the world seems to have jumped on a bandwagon that celebrates the inability for people to succeed.  They tell these young men that they are worthless and will never taste success, even if they are born with advantages.

At this point in my career I have walked athletes for parent night, I have coached athletes and taught students whose parents I have never met, I have spent hours after school and during my lunch helping students with school or talking with them about their home lives, I have brought athletes shoes and shin guards so they can play soccer, etc.  Our society is struggling in many different ways yet no one is encouraging the young people of today that they can succeed if they try.

I believe as teachers and coaches we need to keep on fighting for our young men and women.  We are the only ones that are trying to make a difference and change these kids’ lives on a consistent basis.  We are the only ones really making their lives a better place and make them see that success is something they can achieve, even if the wider world seems to be content to tell them that success is unreachable.  I know I am not perfect and have made mistakes in my life, but I try to help our young men.  Being a good man is hard, but we have no choice. We have to try.  Otherwise, America is going to have an uncertain future.

What can we do?  Some suggestions below:

1.                   Be conscious that you are a role model.  What you do is perceived by your students every      second.  Choose to do things that someone would admire.

2.                  Do your best.

3.                  Show how your subjects and values will impact your student’s lives.

4.                  Work on yourself.  Self-improvement helps all of us in society.  Young men will be attracted to you if you have integrity and can share with them your own struggle.  I do not know why this works, but it does.

5.                  Listen. They will talk with you if they trust you, but only if you listen to what they have to say.

6.                  Understand that you are a cultural warrior.  Most often teachers and coaches are the last hope or last line of defense.  

No comments:

Post a Comment