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Teaching the Star Athletes

Teacher Dilemmas


In schools across the nation, excellent student athletes play sports while working hard to maintain good grades. Unfortunately, there are also student athletes who struggle or do not even try to maintain passing grades in school. They are often given extra services to help them succeed. However, in some schools, teachers are pressured to make special allowances for the 'star' athletes. Why does this occur and what can you as a teacher do about it?

Why Do Schools Pressure Teachers?

Schools that pressure teachers to 'take it easy' on star athletes or sometimes even make exceptions not offered to other students have their priorities mixed up. Unfortunately, in these situations the schools often feel that their pride and prestige is more important than providing these students with quality educations where they are held accountable for actually learning the information that their teachers are trying to teach. Because the student's needs are not met, they will often leave school without learning the basics. Some will even learn without being able to read!

The Teacher's Position

Teachers are often placed in awkward positions when dealing with star athletes who are not passing their courses. Pressure in some schools is subtle but in others is very obvious. If a student has a promising college career ahead of them after graduation, the school will do what it can to get them graduated. Teachers might be asked to allow students to redo work, to retake tests, to use notes or books during tests, or even to change grades.

Why don't teachers simply refuse? Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Despite what is often bandied about in the news, tenure does not make teachers immune from punishment within a school system. While tenure can protect veteran teachers from being fired simply because of their beliefs or politics, it does not keep them from being given the worst assignments and the least consideration. This is what may await a teacher who ignores the directives from administration and acts in what they believe is the most ethical manner.

Community members can also put a lot of pressure on teachers to pass the athletes along. What type of response might a teacher get if a star athlete who looks like they might have a long-term career in a sport does not graduate because they have failed their class? Very cold indeed.

In many cases, teachers are not given much choice. It is often a case of picking battles. Teachers must decide which battles they think important enough to fight and which they will just have to deal with, no matter how unpalatable. If a school wishes to pass a student who cannot read, this might (should) be important enough to stand up and fight against.

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