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!