Should We Teach "Teacher Psychology?"

Usually I scoop up Nash at 6am. We watch Sesame Street. Well we watch ESPN for a while, til his bottle of milk is gone. Then he gets a little more demanding, so we turn to PBS. At which point I open the door quietly (so as not to wake Daphne) and get our Boston Globe. Then he watches while I read. I'm in football mode now. As in: can't wait to watch the upcoming Pats-Jets game. So I read every little morsel I can. But there's just not much football news during the week. Usually the columnists try to write about football psychology. Since the Jets lost their first game, the argument is they really need to win this game, so they will try harder.

One of my favorite non-education blogs is Advanced NFL Stats. Advanced NFL Stats is part of a larger trend where quants are questioning popular wisdom, about everything. In this case, football popular wisdom. His insights are really fun if you like math and football.

Anyway, I won't touch on the math part here. Just psychology. He wrote:

From the Boston Globe, for example, we get Tony Massarotti's piece on the similarities (both coaches' sons) and differences (particulary, the volume and frequency of their respective speech acts) between Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick. We also get Albert Breer suggesting that "for now, the Jets are getting an early gut check and the pressure is off the Patriots" and also asking, in re the Jets: "Has the swagger subsided? Is confidence an issue?"

Undoubtedly, those are appealing narratives to some. To this particular, very handsome man, not so much.

I'm always curious about these attempts to provide a psychological interpretation of something -- i.e. football performance -- so generally divorced from psychology. Somewhere, in the very shadiest part of my memory, I recall noted sabermetrician Bill James saying that he believed psychology was the true curse of the 20th century. Because I like hyperbole and am easily swayed by strongly worded statements, I'll go ahead and just agree with him.

Hmm. Psychology is the true curse of the 20th century. This affects our teacher residency, I swear. We'll get back to that in a minute.

To what degree do the coaches' personalities, or the "swagger" of a team -- to what degree do these things influence what occurs on the field? Perhaps 5%? Maybe 10%? Probably less than both of those figures, is my guess.

There are obviously things that impact a game more significantly. What are they? Here are some guesses:

• The raw athleticism of the players. • The football-specific skills of the players. (For example, an outside linebacker could be huge and fast, but does he know how to get by blockers?) • The coaches' respective abilities to design effective plays. • The players' respective abilities to execute those plays. • The abilities of both coaches and players to adapt to game conditions (i.e. score, opponents' scheming, etc.).

All of those things impact a game to a considerably greater degree than being sufficiently pumped, and yet they receive an inordinately small amount of attention. I'm skeptical that it's what readers want -- this psychologizing business, that is -- but I could very easily be wrong here.

So here are some questions.

1. How much of a teacher's success are about teacher specific-skills and abilities? And how much is psychology/motivation?

2. To what extent, if any, should a teacher prep program address "teacher psychology"? Confidence. Firmness with kids. Commitment to excellence (versus "mere" being good). Growth mindset.

Is that just delving into the curse of the 20th century, and we should stick to no-nonsense teacher moves, like how to set a clear Aim or how to handle the transition to "independent practice" (the part of the lesson when kids learn on their own)? And no-nonsense coaching (i.e., watching every student teaching at-bat, and giving crisp "This is what I need to see next time" type feedback)?

3. If we should address teacher psychology, then how? When? In what context? And why? Is it because it will make them better rookie teachers? Or is it because teachers like to talk about how they feel?

I.e., would we include aspects of teacher psychology to make us more popular with trainees, or because we think their little 11-year-old pupils will learn more in 2011-12?