There was a “Meet the Teacher Night” this week at my son’s high school. Parents follow their child’s schedule, with seven minute periods instead of the normal forty-four. It was definitely an eye opener.
Period 1: English Language Arts:
The English teacher is enthusiastic. She takes us through her grading system quickly…quizzes, tests, homework, and class participation count for this and that percentage of their grades. She moves quickly on to holding up some of the material they’ll be reading: Fahrenheit 45i, MacBeth, etc. She explains that some of the more difficult material she will read with them in class so she can help them get the most from their reading. I get the feeling, listening to her, that she has high standards, really enjoys her subject matter, AND wants kids to appreciate literature and writing.
Period 2: Biology
Once again the teacher runs through his grading system. He explains some the framework of the curriculum in his course. He never looks at any notes and is very confident. Then he says,
“I have two goals for the year. I want every kid to pass the Regents and I want them to have fun; to love science. So many kids get to this age and say they HATE science. I think science is amazing and I want them to feel that way too. Sometimes when things get so intense, I’ll just call a “time out” and we’ll do something that is a lot of fun. They’re still kids and if I do my job they’ll love this class.”
Wow! guy has the right balance of no nonsense, enthusiasm, and love of kids, that I wish every teacher had. Very clear about his goals.
Period 3: Mathematics
Uh-Oh! This teacher keeps looking down at her notes. She seems ill at ease. She launches into a long riff about cell phones. They are forbidden; but she knows the kids use them anyway. She can tell when they are looking down at their desks a certain way that they are really playing with their phones. She will give them one chance before she confiscates them; but if it happens more than once on the same day, they won’t get the second chance because … and on and on she goes.
What she seems to be trying to tell us parents is that she has been around and knows the ropes and is one step ahead of the kids. I wonder why this is so important for her to relay to us.
She moves on to her grading system but makes it clear that “if they do this…I will do that” It’s like she’s a prison warden reciting the rules of the institution. No mention of what they will be learning. No mention of her subject matter at all. No positive words at all. This teacher is all about Control!, Control!, Control!.
Period 4: History
This teacher speaks in a low monotone. She goes over her grading system. She talks about how she prepares the students for the Regents. She doesn’t reveal much of herself and what I do see is flat. My first impression is that she’ll cover the material; but this won’t be a class with much life in it.
Period 5: Personal Finance
This teacher is really into his subject matter. If he had this course when he was in school, he might not have become a teacher, he says. We all need this course. It covers everything from credit cards to home mortgages. We don’t save enough. Kids don’t even know how much they spend. He has them do a spending journal for a month. Wow! he is funny, enthusiastic, and parents leave asking if they can sit in on his class.
Period 6: Spanish
The Spanish teacher is reserved. She goes over her grading system. She talks about the textbook a bit. She let’s us know that she gives detention if kids don’t do their homework. No discussion of her subject matter.
So that’s my snapshot “Meet the Teacher Night”, and my son’s teachers. In my view, they contain much of the spectrum of personalities that comprise public education today.
On one level nights like this are an excellent way to “show off” the district. As school budgets become tighter and tighter, having parents meet the district’s teachers is an excellent opportunity to show the value of the district’s professional staff.
On this level, I believe the night failed. In general the teachers were ill at ease and unrehearsed. There was little to inspire, little creativity, little to excite. If these presentations served the purpose of movie trailers or informal job interviews…they fell flat. Most of the time was spent explaining how students’ grades would be computed.
Mostly, it seemed that the message of this night was to reassure parents that nothing had changed from the days when they sat in these classrooms as students. Things were still under control and still boring.
On another level, my belief that “who we are is how we teach” was reinforced. Some teachers bring enthusiasm, confidence, and a sense of fun to their classrooms; others bring their anxieties and fears. No matter how we tweak or revamp the curriculum, the fundamental relationship between teacher and student is still the most important part of public education today. Unless we realize that change is personal, and involves personalities, transforming teaching and learning will be elusive.