Infusing Passion Into the Prison Classroom

By Christopher Zoukis

When I was in high school, my football coach was also my world geography teacher.  Both in the classroom and on the field he would find ways to motivate us to want to do more, to be more than even we thought we could.

On the field, he'd yell, "Zook, I need a field goal" or "Zook, it's time for a first down."  (I was both a kicker and a running back.)  When he would be yelling, he would be making me a part of whatever was going on.  He would be encouraging me.  He would be affirming my value.  And in the classroom, while he wouldn't yell at any of us (perhaps holler is a better word than yell), he would address us individually and collectively.  He would ensure that all of his world geography students felt a part of the classroom and the experience.  To him, the time on the field wasn't about football and the time in the classroom wasn't about our world geography text, it was about us: his students and players.  This interest in us as individuals fermented itself as a passion within ourselves.

Coach's method of teaching and coaching us was effective.  It connected each of his students and players to the situation and made them feel as though they were responsible for the events which were to come.  By calling on us in the classroom, he showed that he cared and valued our opinions.  By taking the time to explain a football technique prior to its implementation, he implied the value of our skills and our worth of his time.

While Coach is not around anymore -- perhaps he still is teaching and coaching at Chamblee High School in Chamblee, Georgia -- the tools he used to engage his students and inject passion into his instruction can certainly still be utilized.  He realized the simple truth about teaching: that is isn't about the knowledge.  It's about the drive to learn and the drive to question.  This applies to both students and educators alike.

Coach's lead can be followed by simply interacting with your students.  As you walk into your classroom, don't think of the day as Lesson 6, think of it as the day that Jessie or Paul is going to master dividing by ten; the day that he or she is going to succeed.  This can be done by speaking with them as individuals -- or even collectively -- but not to or at them.  As you stand in front of your classroom, interact with your students.  Revel in their success and show understanding and compassion when troubles arise.  The point is simple: show your students that you care about them as individuals and believe that they can do what you are asking them to do.  By doing this, your passion will spread from you into your students.  And this might very well make all the difference in the world.

When Coach would count on me to kick the game winning field goal or get us the first down so that I could do so, I felt valued.  I felt needed.  And when he congratulated me upon passing world geography, I felt that not only had I succeeded, but he had too.  It was a victory for the both of us.  This is what the passion for teaching is about, transferring a drive and desire from ourselves into our students.

Thus the only question that remains is: What are you going to do to impassion your students today?