“The Return of Laura Marks” [November/December] nearly stopped my heart. My daughter graduated from LaGuardia and had Marks as a teacher twice. My daughter, who knew well the student who attacked Marks, said the young lady was not doing what was needed to graduate and certainly didn’t deserve to graduate on time. I want to encourage Marks to continue her career.
I am concerned, though, that a male teacher saw the attack and simply walked away and that the young teacher who did intervene was chastised by her colleagues for doing so. Tiffany, the attacker, is a very small girl-certainly no match for any male with a sense of human compassion. I serve on a public school committee, and the idea was floated recently that all teachers should speak to misbehaving children. I was shocked that that wasn’t the case at LaGuardia. We must do something about this apathetic attitude toward each other and the children in our charge!
Queens, New York
Get The Lead Out
I’m an education activist in Portland, Oregon, and I’ve been involved in the Whitaker Middle School building problems [“Clearing The Air,” November/December]. You may know that Whitaker students were transferred to two different locations due to the poor environmental conditions at their school. But you may not know that at one of those new sites, Whitaker Lakeside, lead in the water exceeds EPA action levels. Whitaker Lakeside is supposed to be a temporary solution, but if the middle school building stays closed or is sold, kids most likely will be at Whitaker Lakeside for a while.
The November/December column “Bored Of Ed” should be mandatory reading for all teachers. Just as every student is graded on class participation, every teacher should be assessed on whether he or she makes learning enjoyable. Teachers, what grades would you give yourselves on “How lively is your class?” What grades would your students give you? Are you afraid to ask them?
I am disappointed by “Bored Of Ed,” which cites truancy and lateness as the main reasons for suspension and empathizes with students who argue that school is too “boring.” It suggests that they’d jump at the chance for rigorous academic experiences “playing a guitar, knitting, or identifying birds.” General interest in a pastime does not necessarily lead to academic interest. Even if it did, it would be malpractice for a school system to allow students to engage in such a limited endeavor. Teachers ask students to think deeply about issues within and beyond their own experiences. They urge them to know things so that they may know the world, articulate their viewpoints about it, and participate effectively in it. This is hard. And since many students have little academic stamina, it is easier to be absent.
Schools should continue to refine ways to effectively engage students, but teenage apathy is ever present. I would expect this school-is-boring argument from a 9th grader, but an adult commentary devoted solely to this thesis, without a specific remedy, is a wasted opportunity to communicate.
I read with envy “Science Fare” [November/December], which discusses Kirk Brown’s real-world, research-based International Baccalaureate biology course. I have the utmost respect for Brown and admire what he is doing to inspire his students. I’m sure much thought and creativity go into designing those classes, but there must be a fair amount of luck involved, as well.
How lucky that Brown has ready access to a major research university. How lucky that he has students who don’t use the freedom entrusted to them to waste time, or that one of them has not abused that trust in a way that has threatened his career. How lucky that his school district doesn’t force him to focus on benchmarks, graduation standards, or some related silliness. How lucky that he is bright and efficient enough to do the copious amounts of reading and networking that it must take to stay on top of “the latest research techniques” in the limited daily minutes of prep time that most teachers get. Most of all, how lucky for his students that Brown has not chosen to apply his obviously extraordinary training and talent to something more lucrative than teaching in a public high school.
Mr. Bill Returns
Bill Wetzel’s aged a year since he last graced the pages of Teacher Magazine, but based on “Mr. Bill Goes To School” [October], he hasn’t matured. As a substitute teacher, he lets students do what they want and gains satisfaction from pointing out that they never give him problems. He also discovered the 1970s philosophy that listening to kids is important. I agree with him on that point, and I like his vision of an Independent Study Program. However, Wetzel seems to use his listening strategy without regard for the curricular requirements he finds so pointless.
The idea that kids would prefer to spend the day talking to him about themselves rather than going to English class to do boring, irrelevant, and useless things such as spelling, reading, and writing should not surprise any of us. I might be less cynical if Wetzel gave examples of how he used his gifted intellect to first listen to and then redirect his students’ conversations toward something more relevant than boyfriends in prison. He mentions topics brought up by his students, such as pregnancy and the importance of school, that could have been used as opportunities to guide the kids toward the type of research, discussion, and critical thinking he proposes in his Independent Study Program. Good teaching requires a multitude of strategies including, but not limited to, listening.
Bill Wetzel’s essay was excellent. The lesson of his experience is “don’t rock the boat,” even if it helps the kids. Principals are more interested in keeping their jobs than educating kids. I have been substituting for four years, and I am convinced that every child should receive a voucher to be used in any school. Much of the time kids spend in school is wasted. I have decided that 25 percent are going to learn regardless of what the teachers do, 25 percent are not going to learn regardless of what the teachers do, and 50 percent do as little as possible just to get out. I believe most teachers are qualified and want to teach. People are leaving the profession not because of salaries, but because of working conditions.
When an organization is unable to acknowledge the contribution of a colleague regarded by its head as “an inspiration to educators” [“Board Scores,” Letters, November/December], it is nonsense that may pass an Educational Testing Service-generated rubric, but it fails the test of common sense. I am pleased that the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education has requested that the National Board conduct an internal review of the professional collaboration entry in light of the concerns raised by the case of my portfolio. I look forward to revising my work to the standard of a more appropriate rubric.
James Nehring’s commentary on National Board certification is both fair and unfair. He is correct in that the board is a large organization with little leeway for the individual. Rules are made and must be followed by everyone without exception. That’s part of what keeps the process fair. But his commentary reads like a person wounded by the fact that he is not accepted, who has to ridicule the organization involved to save face. The National Board makes clear that the bottom line is student learning, not authorship or school organizing. Although many of us could have included numerous worthy activities to our portfolio entries, we didn’t because they don’t adequately address student learning.
National Board Certified Teacher
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A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 2002 edition of Teacher as Letters