Education Opinion

Tastes like chicken

By Emmet Rosenfeld — April 30, 2006 3 min read
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With my next few mouthfuls of elephant, I’ll masticate the three standards associated with Entry 4: XIV. Self Reflection; XV. Professional Community; and XVI. Family Outreach. (For newcomers or those who may have “missed a post”-- and at this point, I’m not even sure my editor is reading this thing-- I’ve taken a bite-by-bite approach to the year long task of creating the four-entry portfolio that is one of the elements required to achieve board certification).

A digression related to my extended metaphor: eating an elephant actually occurs near the end of a short essay that I recently discussed with a “second-semester” AP English class (read, less than engaged with learning for its own sake). George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” is a narrative about his experience as a British police officer in Burma at the time when imperialism was beginning to fray. A rampaging elephant killed a coolie and the young Orwell, called to the scene, felt compelled to destroy the creature to satisfy the expectations of a village crowd. The older Orwell looking back turns the visceral memory into an analogy for how imperialism corrupts those who wield it as surely as it does their subjects.

As I was unraveling this essay with seniors, a colleague with whom I share the classroom tiptoed in to gather some papers. Hearing our topic of conversation, she gingerly asked if she might share a story, and of course I welcomed her. Milde told us that around the turn of the century in a small southern town, an ornery circus elephant was lynched to appease an angry mob. Literally hanged, with a chain raised up by a derrick. While this sounds utterly preposterous, Milde swore it was true, and later sent me a news clip that described the event (one account that seems as reliable as any of the others is at //www.blueridgecountry.com/elephant/elephant.html). The story certainly made me look at Orwell’s piece in a new light; a couple students even raised their heads from their Norton Readers to listen.

As this episode might suggest, Milde is the sort of teacher next to whom you can sit in the computer lab during a free period and become embroiled in such a fascinating and obscure conversation that before you know it, half the time is gone and you haven’t even opened your electronic gradebook. Her repository of knowledge is vast and various, and her enthusiasm for inquiry infectious (case in point: she and I have won a grant for next year to have tenth graders build a Native American canoe with traditional tools). These are some of the qualities that make her an inspirational teacher and a valued colleague.

And I can’t help but think that her wildly associative logic and diviner’s instincts for finding what’s beneath the surface of the most unlikely landscapes are also qualities that would not necessarily “register” on the teacher-assessment instrument of NBPTS.

Certainly, Milde has other qualities and accomplishments that would allow her to do well in the board certification process-- she’s a leader in our school and nationally, an author, a master practitioner, etc. But she’s not by-the-book, and certainly not by-the-standard. I wonder if her best moments would “fit” the criteria, or, if they did, if she would feel like it was worth the time and effort to document and describe them with catch-phrases.

Maybe I’m just being petulant. Here I am, stuck at my keyboard on a Sunday afternoon in front of a plate of lukewarm elephant, and Milde’s probably out frolicking in the gardens of her imagination, not the least bit concerned with Standards XIV-XVI. Come to think of it, at this moment, neither am I. And, oh look, we’re out of time. Zounds, Milde’d again. Next week, then, I promise. I will definitely parse those standards, and after that begin to figure out exactly how my work as a teacher fits them. Say, can you nuke this stuff?

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