> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: Teachers: their use and misuse

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Teachers: their use and misuse

It's come to that time in the year when students are starting to feel they know me well enough to tell me what they think of me. They also begin to tell stories of their previous teachers. I always take the 'old mad teacher' stories with a pinch of salt. That's low sodium, organic, naturally sourced salt; I am in America.

My predecessor's worst habit was 'bringing coke into the classroom'.

Me: What? Crack? Snow? C-dust? Nieve? Bernie? Er... I really do read those articles about drugs in school that you find in staffrooms. The kids stare at me as if I had produced the aforementioned articles.

No, it turns out the reprobate was regularly to be found sipping from a can of coke. Talk about debauched. For all we know she might have laced it with something else, I suppose.

I read John Connell's article recently on the testing times that America is going through. The following day I came across this BusinessWeek article –
'I can get your kid into an Ivy' - from October 2007. It's about the work of Michele Hernandez who calls herself "America's Premiere College Consultant."

Hernandez coaches students in how to make an application which will achieve acceptance at the country's top (Ivy League) universities.

Her advice -which can cost up to $40 000 ranges from the sort of stuff you would have thought anyone sensible could offer about prioritizing your time, to the kinds of courses you should be taking to impress application officers. Nothing wrong with helping students prioritise. We've all had conversations with - let's call her Ashley - bright enough to get top grades but missing crucial homework and classes because of her hours at the supermarket.

But choosing subjects simply because of the impression they make irks me. The BusinessWeek article quotes her talking about a student she helped, "I helped in ways that would look good and let him be true to himself." Great soundbyte, but you can't help feeling that being true to oneself shouldn't involve being packaged and marketed by an image consultant.

Arguably Hernandez is just stepping in with a piece of wisdom, at a crucial time in a young person's life. The young person in question isn't what we might call disadvantaged, unless like me, you consider having the kind of parents who are willing to fork out $40,000 to someone like Hernandez a negative.

I can't help but feel the whole experience will teach those students a very powerful and corrupt life-lesson: if you have money you can circumvent any system or manipulate any test. Life isn't like that. There are plenty of 'tests' which you cannot buy your way out of...

Just one that comes to mind – illness. If you want to read about how real people face tests, you might want to visit guineapigmum's blog. Here the qualities under display are honesty, good humour, courage and knowing your own limitations.

The BusinessWeek article also feeds into my own concerns about what it means to be a good teacher. Am I going to educate young people or show them how to pass manufactured tests? Although the two things might not be mutually exclusive the balance is hard to find. Especially in America.


Jemma said...

Wow, you really were at the Akademy for too long. ;) You’re new school seems awesome.

I see what you mean about certain subjects "looking better" than others. I was told in my careers meeting that Physics looked a lot better on my record than CDT. So far, I'm failing all things Physics as it wasn’t really my choice. (Mind you, I didnt have to pay $40 000 for the advice..) Fair enough it looks good in later life, but if kids don’t enjoy it, they’re not going to learn so it may be of a bit pointless exercise. In some case of course, it probably works.

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

I do wonder about those students who get advised to drop stuff (quite often something they enjoy) because it will look better on their qualifications to have ... well Physics. But as you point out, what will look good is a good pass in Physics, not a fail. It's true certain subjects are more impressive because they are generally thought to be harder. It's a tough call.