I had already decided on the title of this post before I came across an article with the very same title, by a woman named Deborah Stipek, in the on-line version of the San Fransisco Chronicle (from May 23, 2004). I would never set out to plagiarize, I give you my word! And for that, I can thank all the excellent English teachers I had throughout high school and college.
In her article, Miss Stipek writes: "Good teachers make all the difference. According to research by academic expert William Sanders and others, the effectiveness of the individual classroom teacher is the single biggest factor affecting students' academic growth. In one study, for example, Sanders found that students who had been taught by three ineffective teachers in a row scored below the 50th percentile in mathematics by the end of the third year. By contrast, those with three highly effective teachers scored above the 80th percentile. Teachers' effect on academic growth dwarfed other factors, such as class size, that have been given so much attention."
I know the term "effective" might seem a bit too subjective; but I think most of us know when a teacher is doing a good job and when he isn't. And the whole "class size" debate has seemed like a bit of a waste of breath, ever since my husband and I found out some years ago that the nun who was the principal at our sons' Catholic elementary school started her career at that school as a young teacher with a classroom of 70 (yes, 70, that was not a typo!) second-graders. She had all those students jammed into a room that now holds classes of only 25 or so; yet she was able to be an effective teacher and discipline was not an issue. That being said, I'm not advocating 1-70 as a good teacher-student ratio. In the current climate, I fear that would result in utter chaos. I just think that, in general, there's too much obsessing over class size. I believe a good teacher can handle a class of 25 as well as he can a class of 17. The bottom line is that there is only one perfect teacher-student ratio, 1-1, and that can only be achieved through homeschooling (a great option for parents who are dissatisfied with the education their children are receiving at the schools in their area).
I'm in the mood to talk about teachers today because--yippee!--our second oldest son was hired two days ago to teach math at an excellent high school about an hour from where we live. Aside from his Catholic alma mater, this school was the #1 choice in his job search.
It was a great relief to us that our son was able to get hired right out of grad school. While he was in the process of getting his undergraduate and master's degrees, friends of ours who heard what he was studying would inevitably say, "Oh, he'll be golden! Math teachers are always in demand--especially male math teachers." Thank God they were right! For his part, after his extremely positive initial interview with the math department head and an assistant principal at this school (the department head told him she would hire him that very day, if she had the authority to do so), my son said," Mom, I just had to get in the door and let them meet me. How could they not love me?" (I may have mentioned this before: this boy is very funny and gives me at least one hearty belly laugh a day.) It was the very first school at which he interviewed and he was offered the job; it just doesn't get much better than that.
I think those kids he's going to teach are very lucky, because I have no doubt he'll be very effective at his job. He'll expect a lot from his students, and won't be afraid to let them know it; but he'll use humor to make learning fun. He's a great coach, too, so hopefully this high school will be able to give him the opportunity to do that as well as teach math. He's been coaching football and lacrosse at his old high school for the past six years, and that experience has definitely helped to prepare him for being in charge of a classroom filled with teenagers. I heard this on the radio, and it made me think of this son: COACHES TEACH SPORTS; TEACHERS ARE CLASSROOM COACHES. What a great observation. I think I'm going to have a sign with that saying on it made for him to hang in his homeroom!
(Illustration by Norman Rockwell)