Monday, September 14, 2009

I Need to Teach Like Roger Federer, Not Rafa Nadal

Rafa Nadal began the 2009 calendar year by defeating Roger Federer to win the Australian Open. Added to his French Open and Wimbledon victories over Federer in 2008, Nadal became the world's top-ranked player and seemed to have Federer on the ropes.

Then, in the 2009 French Open, Nadal failed to make the final match; he withdrew from Wimbledon; and, now, this past week, he was eliminated from the U. S. Open.

His recent troubles reminded me of an outing Russell and I took to the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area three months ago to shoot some photographs.

On the way out, Russell and I talked tennis and our conversation veered to Nadal and Federer.

Russell pointed out that Nadal wouldn't be able to play much longer the way he has the last four years or so: he relies too much on this athletic ability, plays too many tournaments each year, and does not have any sense of restraint. He goes all out for every ball, diving, making quick cuts, playing each point as if it were a match point at Roland Garros.

Russell was correct and every tennis expert I've read agrees. Nadal's all out style of play has caused his body to begin to break down. Only twenty-three years old, his knees kept him from playing Wimbledon and he's having problems with his legs and back. Late in the season, he's been fighting fatigue.

Federer's playing style has been more suited for the long haul. It's more fluid, efficient, intuitive,
and mental. It's taken much less of a toll on his body -- and he has managed his playing schedule, giving himself rest, coming into major tournaments with fresh legs.

I realize that the analogy I'm about to draw is a little wobbly. Please give me the benefit of the doubt.

As the academic year is about to begin, I'm examining how I teach, how I expend my energy; I'm examining what I can and cannot do as a teacher in my mid-fifties.

I've been a Rafa Nadal-styled teacher since I began teaching college courses in 1977.

I've been demonstrative, passionate, energetic, even wild; I've stood on tables, gestured wildly, taken chalkboard notes on student comments hard and fast, exercised quick wit, laughed hard, been theatrical and dramatic, and moved quickly back and forth, up and down the classroom, working hard to keep things going, feeding off of adrenaline and my genuine enthusiasm for my work. I've tried hard not to be boring and to keep time in class upbeat.

Not only have I been like Nadal in my exuberance, I've also over scheduled myself. I've wanted to push my students, so I've assigned a lot of reading and writing; for the last several years I've team taught with Margaret and this has increase my time in the classroom by the equivalent of an added course. It adds up. Margaret and I have decided not to team teach this year because the addition to our workload was wearing us out.

Do I need to teach so exuberantly that I'm beet read after class, sometimes nearly winded during class? Do I need to be "on" every minute of a class meeting? Do I need to concentrate and focus as hard as I do? Do I need to try to pay attention to each student during class, trying to gauge their engagement, whether they need more help, whether I need explain things better, whether they are understanding the comments of their fellow students? Do I need to exert so much energy each class period that I collapse when I come home?

I don't think I do.

But, like Nadal, who, if he wants to play a more efficient, less demanding style of tennis, is going to find long-established habits hard to break, so am I.

And look at Roger Federer. He wins championships. His tennis playing is compelling. It's not effortless, but it's efficient. To entertain, be really good at what he does (in fact, the best), he can pull back sometimes, rest, even during a match, conserve his energy, and make the best use of his talent.

I'm going to try to pull back this fall. I'm adjusting reading lists and paper assignments. Rather than trying always to exceed the expectations I imagine students have and that LCC has, I'm going to work to meet those expectations. Meeting them is a lofty enough goal. Why do I think I have to exceed them?

I suppose my tendencies toward working too hard and tending toward overdoing my job are grounded in insecurity.

It's odd.

I've won awards as a teacher, been evaluated very positively by students, fellow teachers, and my supervisors.

Nonetheless, a voice keeps nagging me that I'm not doing enough. I need to work harder.

I've got to get that voice to shut up.

Otherwise, I'm not going to be able to do the very work I love.

Roger Federer has learned how to extend his tennis playing career.

He works hard.

He's efficient.

I need to teach like Roger Federer.


myrtle beached whale said...

As a student I would rather have you in your Nadal mode making class exciting and enjoyable. But also as a student I wouldn't really care if you flamed out next semester.

raymond pert said...

Would it matter? As a student, you never came to class.

myrtle beached whale said...

maybe if you were using the Nadal method of teaching it would inspire me to at least find out where the class was being held.

raymond pert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raymond pert said...

it'd be a start...

inlandempiregirl said...

Turn off the insecurity voice and take your own advice. I agree that each of us needs to reevaluate what we have been able to do in the past and adjust a bit. In your workshop when you speak of the nonwriting elements of writing, I think it holds true for teaching also. What are those nonteaching things that would enrich your teaching life if you had the energy and time to enjoy them during the quarter.... walks with the camera, reading something other than what is needed to prepare for class, FARKLE? I think you are on to something here.