Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Teachers of Penzance

A song for an old teacher.

Bud Stock would say things that completely stupefied us.

Slowly pacing the classroom, he would leave chasm-sized pauses in his lectures. He'd stare out the window, like a captain gazing at the sea, absently pulling on his goatee. A minute would pass.

In the beginning of the course, some of us nurtured the belief that, sometimes, Mr. Stock would forget where he was. His AP English class was like no other AP class in school: slow-paced, recursive, and marked by silences. It was weird. His voice was slow, when he used it, and his cadence was measured on a scale that we teenagers did not understand. He took pauses between readings of Thoreau or Auden, O'Connor or Dickinson, stand like a statue at the bank of window panes, and say something that moved the ground.

“It's not really yours until you give it away.” He'd turn to us and ask “Or not. What do you think?”

It was Mr. Stock's mastery. He challenged our ideas and how we constructed them through choice texts, great pauses, and few words. We wanted to think like Mr. Stock. We wanted to answer his questions, read the pieces he gave us, and, well, be smart.

Were we tested? Sure. We had to participate in discussions, write essays, proofread each other, diagram sentences on the board, and read aloud. He famously hated talking about grades- and, yet, he graded us. Mr. Stock prepared us for the AP and SAT- and, yet, he rarely talked about either test. We were all evaluated using many nuanced, less quantifiable methods.

Mr. Stock was an artist and a technician. He served the quantifiable through qualitative measures.

Nonetheless, the million dollar question is (put in a big ol' pause here and stare out the window for a moment): would a formal evaluation of Mr. Stock show him to be a 'good teacher?'

Given the gravity of the decisions we have to make about education, nationally, it's actually a billion dollar question.

My answer: hell yes!

Mr. Stock was an artist and a technician. Like a good surgeon, attorney, or architect, he served the quantifiable through qualitative measures. He was well read. He knew his tests and his techniques. He knew his students. He knew that inspiration coupled with discipline made students sing.

Mr. Stock was the very model of a modern Major-General. Of teachers.

Everyone likes a pirate, sure. They look so cool.  But when the sea gets rough, and stuff gets bad, you don't care about cool.  What you want is a Major-General, a genius who has mastered information: animal, vegetable and mineral.

The challenge, of course, is to make a system that can attract, recognize, develop, evaluate, and reward a teacher like Mr. Stock.  A system suited to developing great artisans of teaching, broader than standardized lesson plans and byzantine testing systems.

'Cause it ain't what we got now. What we've got now is too many pirate kings singing songs of tax cuts, standardized tests, and teacher evaluations.

Here's to Bud Stock:  a navigator, a leader, an artist, a technician, and a model.  The very model.  Thanks, man.

NEXT EDUCATION BLOG:  my proposed system of improved teacher evaluation.  Tenure is dead!  Long live tenure!


  1. I seem to remember a teacher who did the same for my class.

  2. I would not have graduated but for Mr Stock taking my senior final essay, out side of the box. He had an inkling of my issues in my small little life and never belittled them but encouraged me to come out of myself. He took my essay and made it a mulitple question, for the whole enchalada, whose answers were the all the same. He appreciated the figurative answer I gave. I would have failed miserably but for the mans compassion and understanding. So, glass raised and Mr Kleba good for you for remembering him in your own way so I could remember him in mine.

  3. A couple of weeks ago I was rustling through my bookshelf and came upon my old Samuel French scriptbook for 'Grease.' I immediately turned to my favorite page of the book, the inside front cover, where appears a single paper reinforcement and Mr. Stock's very kind note about my future and the role that self-confidence would play. I'll never forget it and I'll never throw out the book, as ratty and yellow as it has become.

    I'm a bit envious that you have the same opportunity to affect the lives of young adults as Mr. Stock did, but just as happy to see someone with your passion for the profession get to pass down the way he taught us to learn, and grow up.

  4. Thank you, Mike. That was beautiful. He would have given you a paper grommet for that one :)

  5. Here, here!! Well said, Sir. Going to Mr. Stock's class was a pleasure. I still miss it.

  6. Mr Stock was my all time favorite, but I really like pirates too. Im for raising taxes, especially on the rich, so we can pay for all the things we need and deserve. Lets be more like France w/o all those French people.

  7. Keep your "Endurance" up as you hooked me even more. You must approach this mission with a Shackleton-esque vigilance. Well done brother!

  8. I had a Chemistry teacher in High School just like your Mr. Stock. He was brilliant. Started each class with an informal conversation, jokes or personal anecdotes. He was hooking us in. He built his lesson like a seasoned lawyer in a high-stakes trial. By the end of class, we had picked up on a major chemical concept that was played out like a lovely song. We didn't even know what was happening as it unfolding. Subtle and magical. At his retirement after more than 30 years, he said he was finally done with his teaching apprenticeship. Thanks Mr. Regal. You set the bar high!