Should Teachers Coach too?

Imagine your boss comes to you and offers you another job. Not instead of your current one, but in addition. After your eight-hour day, she wants you to do a different job for the company for another three to six hours. She also tells you that since it's a second job, you won't receive overtime compensation. You get a second contract at an even lower rate of pay for the second job. How does that sound?

Now imagine that you're an applicant for that job. In order to be hired, you have to agree to do both jobs with no overtime pay. Would you do it?

Labor laws in the US mandate a 40-hour work week and require time-and-a-half compensation for overtime. So you might think this is illegal.  In public schools though, it's not only accepted, it's a way of doing business. Teaching jobs are advertised paired with coaching:

Wanted: High School Science Teacher and Basketball Coach

Schools use the loosest possible interpretations of labor law to consider all of their coaches as "Exempt" employees, in other words not subject to the overtime rules. (Here is one law firm's interpretation of how this is legal. And here's another.)  In fact, they're more likely to get in trouble if they hire their classified (hourly wage) employees as coaches. The loophole in the law allowing schools to assign teachers a second job is big enough to drive an activity bus through.

Most school administrators will claim that they prefer to have their teachers coaching. They face more problems with community coaches who aren't attached to the school than with staff coaches. So from a coaching perspective -- and particularly a workload-for-the-administrator perspective -- teachers make the best coaches.

But do coaches make the best teachers? There are surprisingly few studies examining how coaching affects teacher performance. I did numerous searches and came up with just two: one in 1989 that suggested coaches did not perform well in the classroom and one in 1993 that suggested the opposite. That's it. Two and none in the past twenty years.

In the 1980s, I researched this very topic for my master's thesis. I was able to find little research directly on the subject, but at that time was able to confirm that social studies teachers were the most likely to be hired to coach and was able to look at hiring patterns and classroom practices. It was clear then that very few women were being hired to teach social studies and that social studies teaching tended to be fairly dry and unambitious.

Later, I was hired to teach social studies (only because I could also teach Spanish) and was the only member of my department not a coach. Still later as an administrator, I found my veteran teachers were primarily former coaches, hired to coach but no longer doing so. Hence the perpetual need to fill every open teaching position with a new coach. After a few years, that teacher-coach would leave coaching too and settle into just teaching for the next twenty years.

What I also saw was that many of my formerly coaching teachers had developed routines designed to minimize teacher work and unresponsive to what we know about student learning.

If coaching is our priority, hire teacher-coaches because they often make wiser coaches. But if teaching is our priority, we're doing a disservice. Coaching demands considerable time and attention to planning workouts and game plans. That time has to come from somewhere and the somewhere is classroom planning time. The only way to survive as a teacher is to take short-cuts, planning lessons that require minimal time investment and evaluation afterwards.

If we respect teachers and teaching, we don't ask them to moonlight. And we certainly don't limit our hiring to those willing to give their classroom preparation back seat attention.

See also:  Wrong Focus