As a sports fan, one of my favorite athletes of all time is Arnold Palmer.
Perhaps this choice shows my age, but few athletes had more skill and determination than Arnie in his day. He had an army of fans who followed his every step around the course largely because of his relentless pursuit of victory.
He was doggedly persistent, always trying to improve his game.
I had a brief and enlightening encounter with Palmer in 1971 when I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the see the U.S. Open at Merion Cricket Club in Ardmore.
I could not believe my good fortune as I got to actually see Palmer on the practice tee before he began his round. As I approached the tee, he looked right into my eyes. The thrill soon faded, however, when, using his driver, he sliced a shot far to the right.
His second drive was no better, veering very far to the right. He looked like a man in trouble. I remember thinking that he and I had the same problem with our swing. My drives often sliced far to the right as well.
After a few more shots, I could see that Palmer had over corrected, because the next few practice drives were flying far to the left. Several times his shots went left, well off course. After what seemed like many shots, Palmer finally began hitting the ball straight.
It was a relief to witness, but not for long. He alternately hit shots that sliced right, hooked left and occasionally went smack down the middle of the practice range.
Then it dawned on me. He was doing this on purpose! Or should I say, with purpose?
Clearly Palmer knew a good deal more about the dynamics of a golf swing than I. He was consciously controlling his actions to get the results he wanted with each shot. What made him a professional, as opposed to a duffer like me, was that he understood cause and effect. He was deliberate in using the skills he had learned over a long and successful career.
This experience always seemed an apt metaphor for teachers and teaching.
I am thinking specifically about the remarkable elementary teachers with whom I work each week, but I could argue that the metaphor holds regardless of the age of learners.
Anyone can teach, in the same way that anyone can play golf.
But there are differences between amateurs and those who embrace teaching as their profession. There are also different results.
Professional teachers have a clear understanding about the effects their actions have on students. They act deliberately to try to assist students in their learning and adjust their actions according to the needs of their pupils.
Whether they know it or not, great teachers are a lot like Arnold Palmer in their passion for the game, their determination and their dogged persistence in helping their students learn and develop.
And although the game of golf is not nearly as complicated as guiding the development of a classroom full of children, professional teachers share a good deal in common with professionals in that sport.
Our community is fortunate to have an army of competent, caring teachers.
Bernard Badiali is an associate professor in Penn States College of Education. He is director of the elementary professional development school partnership with State College Area School District. Readers may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.