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Sheryl Green: Lessons from the gridiron

Sheryl Green
Sheryl Green

I woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning one day this week, unable to sleep. That's been happening often these past few months. It's because of Mark Richt.

Allow me to parallel the plight of Richt with the current plight facing every public school educator. The matter concerns the evaluation of performance. The media has blasted our beloved state with the debate over teacher performance evaluations being tied, at least in part, to student performance, presenting many parallels between the beloved coach and the local educator.

The similarities, I'm sure, are more abundant than this column has the word count to list, but here are just a few: Both coach Richt and our local teachers deal with students and are judged in the public eye on the performance of those students. On the football field and in the classroom, lessons are taught and assessments conducted. Goals are achieved -- or not -- and scores are counted. And, yes, ultimately, both coach's and teacher's salaries are affected by overall student performance.

The similarities, however, fall quite short in an accurate comparison, especially when we consider the single most poignant and stark difference between a beloved college football coach and a cherished classroom teacher in the school building down the street. Recruitment.

I can only imagine just how remarkable the performance of my students on state standardized tests would be if I could recruit the very best of the best. If I could hand-select the brightest and most well trained students to choose Room 212, I bet I could muster high enough marks to keep my salary stable.

But I can't. I'm given what I'm given. All of us local, public educators are slotted a roster and then asked to mount high scores and reach lofty goals. In contrast, each season Richt spends a great deal of time, energy and money creating the very best roster of football players he can -- players who were the very best of their high school squads.

Coach Richt's players have proven themselves to be collegiate-level football players, able to compete at a high level in the SEC. The middle school teacher down the street, on the contrary, is merely given a roster of 35 different levels of ability, some of which include: an ADHD, hyperactive boy; the honor roll kid with parents who are doctors; a Section 504 child who is plagued with seizures; three from the children's home, and 10 who are reading below grade level. Wouldn't it be grand if teachers could choose the best writers, the best readers, the best math whizzes?

But we can't. Somehow we must find a way to meet the needs of the diversity on our roster, all the while losing sleep because we know their performance reflects upon us.

Coach Richt was and is a fantastic coach, and the Bulldog football program is historically sound and successful. His reputation precedes him. No one can discount the years of meritorious work he did for UGA's football program. As he walks away from Athens with a "needs improvement" performance rating, I can imagine he wishes he

himself could have run out on the field and caught all of those dropped passes of his top-notched wide receivers, or made all of those missed field goals of his top 10 kicker, or wrapped up all of those missed tackles of his state-ranked defensive-ends. Those are the elite athletes he hand-picked to represent the Bulldogs, making mistakes, doing the best they could. Maybe he could have tallied more wins. Then maybe, just maybe his performance rating would have been "proficient" and his job would have been more secure.

But he can't. And we teachers certainly can't take the test for the plethora of ability levels in our classrooms, who are the same kids tied to our performance evaluations. We certainly tap out our resources and strategies, finding as many ways to explain the concepts. But the reality is, we cannot understand the material for the kids. Wish we could... but we can't.

So, we lose sleep and do the very best we can and pray for a Hail Mary.

Sheryl Green is an independent contractor. Contact her at