Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kyle Orton and Da Bears

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the

Kyle Orton and Da Bears

If you are not a Chicago Bears fan I will let you know a little secret, we cannot find a decent quarterback. Sid Luckman is our claim to fame. He played quarterback in the 1940’s and won 3 championships. Since then we won the championship in 1963, won the super bowl in 1985, and lost the super bowl in 2006.

Billy Wade the quarterback in 1963 had a passer rating of 74 that year 2 points above his career stats of 72.2. He went 2-8 the next year was benched the second year and retired three years after winning the championship. Jim McMahon, quarterback in 1985, had a passer rating of 82.6 that year 4.5 points above his career average. In his entire career he never started all 16 games in one season. Rex Grossman quarterback in 2006 is currently sitting on the bench. Rex is sitting on the bench because the coaches think Kyle Orton, who sat on the bench during the 2006 Super Bowl, is a better quarterback.

Think for a second. If Orton is the better player why wasn’t he the quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl? Would the Bears have won if he was the quarterback in 2006?

I hope you enjoyed the bit of Bears history there. What the heck does it have to do with education you ask?

I’m glad you asked that question. If the quarterback is the most important person a football team and the teacher is the most important person in the classroom they just might be similar. Probably not, but let’s play along and look at the difficulty in hiring a quarterback.

In the NFL there are a lot of very smart people who get paid to scout prospective quarterbacks and recommend them for hire. These scouts have access to reams of films from the players past history, college and pro. Every year groups of these scouts hold what they call the NFL Combine. During this week long event prospective college players are measured in myriad of ways. Comprehensive stats are kept on all players from college and into the pros. New statistical measurements are created and applied using these stats for an even more in-depth look at what a player can do.

Yet with all of this time and money being spent on finding the great quarterback, still the Chicago Bears have only found one great one in their 90 year history.

The problem is arm strength, speed, leaping ability, etc… those things you can measure just don’t always translate to being a great quarterback. It is the same in all sports and all positions. Bobby Hull, a hall of famer for the Chicago Blackhawks scored at or near the bottom in almost all measureable categories, yet still he excelled at his sport. (Some say he just had a knack for twisting just enough to change a full body check into a glancing blow)

Now let’s hire a teacher. We can send them to school to get certified, we can make them take tests, but in the end we can’t figure out if a person is going to be a great teacher unit they have been in the classroom for a while. Even then, as in the case of Kyle Orton, we might be tricked into thinking the other guy with better stats should be the teacher.

The truth is what makes a great teacher can be very difficult to define. The traditional method is for a person to major in education in college. There he/she studies subjects like child psychology, classroom management, etc… in preparation of taking over a classroom in the near future. There is even a short internship during one semester.

There are those who think teacher certification is useless for the same reason it is difficult to find a good quarterback. All that work in college and all the measurements in the world can’t tell you if someone is a good teacher until you actually get them into a classroom and let them teach. Should we close education programs at college? That would be like teams refusing to participate in draft day.

The new(er) method is to remove barriers to becoming a teacher. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree can and should be able to transfer into education at will. After all the first two years of college are pretty much the same for most majors and the second two year can be compressed for high achieving students. These prospective teachers can have a short intense summer of learning about education then move right into an internship (while continuing to study)

Teach For America (TFA) is one of the biggest such programs to take people from business to education. The track record for these teachers is by some accounts about the same as, or worse than, it is for traditionally educated teachers. (1, 2, 3) Should it be taken off the table? Heck no, that would be like refusing to allow prospective athletes to walk into a training camp.

So how do we find out who is the best teacher and hire them? We don’t we let them teach and then decide. For some the rigors of teaching will thin out the herd a bit. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) For the others every year will be a learning opportunity. For some, like Kyle Orton, it may be a few years before we realize that they are actually very good (perhaps they learned what other innately know or do). And some will be sent to the rubber room, while the verdict is decided. (If we aren’t going to fire CEO’s who drive companies into the ground why fire teachers who are just taking up space?)

In the end while a teacher, like a quarterback, is arguable the most important person in the classroom, they are not the only people in the classroom. Yes, the best trained person will do better in most cases, but sometimes you have to take into account intangibles like heart, and leadership.

In Chicago the Bears are famous for great defense and great running backs. That is why the Chicago Bears have won almost twice as many championships with poor to mediocre quarterback than with Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

In the classroom you can do your best to find good teachers, but even then it is more important to support those teachers with high quality schools and high quality support staff. Give even the average teachers a chance to win. Expect average teachers to be able to win because they don’t have to drag the rest of the school with them.

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