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Oxford High School Embraces the Teacher-Coach Model in Preparing Students for Life

By Jared Redding, UM Graduate Student

Oxford High School’s teacher-coach model is built for success both on and off the field. Photo Courtesy of Jared Redding.

Being a high school teacher and soccer coach wasn’t the original plan for Hunter Crane. That plan included pharmacy school. However, his passion for soccer and need for an outlet led him to seek a student volunteer opportunity with the Ole Miss women’s soccer program. 

It was there he learned that coaching was his calling, and that teaching was at the core of coaching. The local Oxford School District gave him his first opportunity to use those lessons to teach both in the classroom and on the field. A decade later, Crane has no regrets as a high school biology teacher and the head coach for boys and girls soccer.

The Mississippi High School Athletics Association (MHSAA) requires head coaches of certain sports — football, baseball, fast-pitch softball, and basketball — to be full-time district employees. 

Oxford High School, however, strives to keep full-time certified teachers in the head position in each of its 19 sports, including soccer.

Teacher-Coach Model – “The Oxford Way”

The focus on hiring certified teachers for all head coach positions isn’t the only notable feature of the Oxford School District teacher-coach model. District administrators also prefer these head coaches teach core subjects or advanced placement (AP) courses, requiring them to be in the classroom for the majority of the school day. 

Chris Baughman, Co-Activities Director for the Oxford School District, believes there is a strong relationship between teaching and coaching.

“Good coaches are also good teachers,” Baughman said. “When you think about your best coaches, they taught.”

Baughman is aware that some districts leave more planning time in the day for coaches to focus on coaching duties, but he defends the district’s stance of requiring its coaches to teach three out of the four blocks of the school’s daily schedule.

“We are here as a support to education. It’s a piece of education,” Baughman said. “That has always been and forever will be the priority of the Oxford School District. Academics come first. We coach student-athletes. We expect our coaches to be teachers first.”

***Oxford High School’s graduation rate state and national comparison. Information courtesy of PublicSchoolReview.com.***

As a former teacher-coach himself, Baughman referenced his own AP calculus course. Baughman, who is a former head baseball coach, compared his excitement on AP test day at the end of the term to the excitement experienced during a playoff game. Baughman is no stranger to success both on and off the field, representing the model he embraces. Baughman won 73 percent of his games during his tenure as head coach, including two state championships, and coached his students to a 93 percent success rate on the AP BC Calculus exam.

Acknowledging the extra workload that accompanies state-tested core and AP courses, Baughman confidently stated that his coaches are equipped to “take care of business in the classroom.”

The Coaches’ View

Oxford High School’s Crane teaches biology, one of four state-tested core academic subject areas. He said that serving as both teacher and coach has enhanced his own success in each role as his investment in the success of students in his classroom mirrors his investment in his student-athletes. He added that his goal orientation and his penchant for creating and adhering to schedules helps with both roles.

“I build strong relationships with my students. I build strong relationships with my athletes. The kids trust the fact that I am going to put them in the best position whether it is in the classroom or on the field,” Crane said. 

Gene Anderson, a 15-year veteran soccer coach and Crane’s counterpart in the neighboring Lafayette County School District, agreed with Crane’s assessment. 

“Basically, if you are good at one you will be good at the other. In sports you are teaching. In the classroom you are teaching. It’s just a different subject,” Anderson said.

Lafayette also strives to have teacher-coaches in all sports, but differs in how to best utilize these coaches in the classroom.

The way the Oxford School District chooses to implement the teacher-coach model may be a bit unorthodox and even questioned by some in the fields of education and athletics but the success of Oxford High School students in both academic and athletic settings is undeniable. 

***Oxford High School’s academic and athletics success by the numbers. Information courtesy of U.S. News & World Report, GreatSchools.org, MaxPreps and Oxford School District.***

Impact of the Teacher-Coach Model

Dr. Hunter Taylor teaches in the University of Mississippi School of Education and has written books on the positive impact of coaches in the lives of student-athletes.

As both educator and former coach, Taylor understands the drive and dedication necessary to be successful in both roles.

“More times than not, the best coaches in the school are also the best teachers in the school,” Taylor said. “Discipline and work ethic naturally ooze from their body in whatever situation they are in so that would ooze into whatever situation for the students that they work with.”

Taylor emphasized that coaches know how to teach skills that matter off the field and beyond the classroom.

“I think in our society we’ve seen that being a good communicator and a great teammate are the things that are great separators in the job force moving forward,” Taylor said. “…Those are the people who will advance higher in leadership [because] they possess a strong communication skill set or are strong collaborators.”

As founding director of the Mississippi Excellence in Coaching Fellowship, Taylor’s goal is to boost the coach’s ability to develop these skills in student-athletes. The fellowship provides leadership training and mentoring to some of the best high school and middle school coaches in Mississippi. The inaugural fellowship class of 25 coaches contained two from the Oxford School District. 

The teacher-coach model is a win for schools for at least one reason, according to Taylor.

“I think the model exists just because it is a creative way to hopefully get good people in schools,” Taylor said.

For Oxford, the strategy appears to be working. Oxford High School currently ranks No. 11 among Mississippi high schools and is in the top 14 percent of schools nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report. In sports, 32 State Championships have been won over the last 10 years, attesting to the consistent success of this program.

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