As a first-year professor on the tenure track, I’m looking for inspiration from any source, including Apple TV’s Ted Lasso. The series is about an American college football coach hired by an English soccer team. Like many of the show’s more than 500 million viewers, I found comfort in the warmhearted leader, Ted; to my surprise, there was significant overlap between the show and my first semester of classroom experience. Here are five reflections describing the overlap between this quirky series and lessons I’ve learned from my first semester of teaching.
“Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse.” As Ted begins to approach his new job, he eloquently says, “Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doin’ it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.” Ted’s quote normalizes challenge as part of the learning process. Students report more meaningful educational experiences when the struggle is normalized, prompting a growth mindset (Posselt, 2017). In normalizing challenges during my first semester, I attempted to explain why activities were structured in particular ways, and to expect challenges along the way. Sometimes this looked like a PowerPoint slide with some “learning tips” describing the value of recall methods for exam preparation; other times it looked like verbally emphasizing the value of team building before an activity began. Not only does describing expectations and challenges build collaboration among students, but clarifying the expectation helps first-generation students and those with less familiarity in the college space (Collie & Morgan, 2008).
“Hey, what’s your name, by the way?” From the baggage handler at the airport to the equipment manager for the team, Ted asks for names and remembers them. The characters respond to this act of personalization with warmth—similar to how students respond to name recognition. Trying to learn 140 student names while they are wearing masks in class is a challenge! Despite the difficulty, the value of learning students’ names is well documented (Glenz, 2014). There are many strategies for learning names quickly and efficiently (Igwe, 2016). In my first semester, I would identify one student per class whose name I did not know and commit to learning and using that individual students’ name. I found this a simple but critical element of relationship building in the classroom.
“Be curious, not judgmental.” Ted Lasso cites this phrase during a particularly tense game of darts set in an English pub. I held onto this phrase when interacting with students, particularly in moments when the student acted unexpectedly. Missing assignments, falling asleep in class, coming in late, or a general lack of motivation can prompt quick judgments from professors. Being curious rather than judgmental necessitates asking questions to learn more information. Asking questions allows students to feel listened to and respected as partners in the learning process (Bishop, 2018) and is associated with increased participation (Brooman et al., 2015). As part of the “being curious” mindset, I used introductory sheets that ask students why they are taking the class, whether they are nervous about being in college, and whether there’s anything they want me to know about their learning needs. I communicated to students that these introductory sheets model a constructive dialogue that will continue throughout the semester. Returning and providing individual comments on these forms creates an opportunity for a connection between the student and the professor.
“Be a goldfish.” When coaching a player who missed a goal, Ted notes, “You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? Got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.” In my first semester, some classes went well, and others flopped. I’d try a new approach, a group project, or a different way of engaging students, and sometimes it wouldn’t work. A key point of learning is making mistakes and letting those mistakes go. In those moments of failure, I tried to acknowledge and model this element of the learning process for students (thus normalizing the challenge). Simultaneously, I recommend that new faculty develop a strategy to track responses or thoughts about your class. I use a simple spreadsheet to track my opinion of each class lecture, rating the lesson on a scale and jotting down notes about class engagement. I’ll use these reflections to edit the lesson plan in further iterations of the course.
“It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves.” Keep the goal in mind. It’s easy to get bogged down with all you have to do in the first semester of teaching. Try to keep the goal in mind. As Ted says, “For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” In particularly frustrating or exhausting teaching moments, rereading my teaching statement reminds me what I’m striving for.
Bishop, D. C. (2018). More than just listening: The role of student voice in higher education, an academic perspective. IMPact: The University of Lincoln Journal of Higher Education Research, 1(1), 1–15.
Brooman, S., Darwent, S., & Pimor, A. (2015). The student voice in higher education curriculum design: Is there value in listening? Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 52(6), 663–674. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2014.910128
Collier, P. J., & Morgan, D. L. (2008).“Is that paper really due today?”: Differences in first-generation and traditional college students’ understandings of faculty expectations. Higher Education, 55(4), 425–446. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-007-9065-5
Glenz, T. (2014). The importance of learning students’ names. Journal on Best Teaching Practices, 1(1), 21–22. http://teachingonpurpose.org/journal/learning-students-names
Igwe, N. (2016, October 17). Getting students’ names right: It’s personal.” Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/getting-names-right-personal
Posselt, J. (2018). Normalizing struggle: Dimensions of faculty support for doctoral students and implications for persistence and well-being. The Journal of Higher Education, 89(6), 988–1013. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2018.1449080
Shannon McQueen, PhD, is an assistant professor in West Chester University’s Political Science Department, where she teaches courses on identity politics, women in politics, and public opinion. Her research interests include gender, state politics, and identity politics.