Monday, October 15, 2012

Evaluating Teachers

Here's an interesting article. 

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR: Want to Ruin Teaching? Give Ratings

A government-run teacher evaluation bureaucracy would be a disaster for the teaching profession — and thus the future of public education — in our country.

I work in a private school where my Head of School has the power to hire and fire and my Head of Upper School has the responsibility to evaluate the effectiveness of individual teachers. I like this because the US Head knows me as a person and as a teacher. Every year he helps me to reflect on what unique traits I bring to my job and what areas I CAN improve. Do we want to be taught by robots who all act and respond the same way? Should different classrooms be different because of the unique personality of the teacher? Or, do we want to set minimum standards and hope that teachers reach higher on their own? (Seems to me that all of these questions can be applied to evaluation of student performance as well)
I wonder what you think about this article and what teacher evaluation looks like at your school. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Great Gatsby

After reading The Great Gatsby I have my students read an excerpt from Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. When teaching American literature in Tehran during the beginning of the Iranian revolution, Nafisi's students struggled with the concepts that they encountered in this classic work of American literature. I invite my students to see the book through the eyes of a foreigner and ask:
  • How can American literature help or hinder the perception other have of us? 

So I'm thinking of how I will introduce the assignment today and I came across this quote: "Like all other ideologues before them the Islamic revolutionaries seemed to believe that writers were the guardians of morality" (Nafisi 136). In literature there are no moral lessons. The writer certainly has ideas that he/she wishes to share and have the reader consider. But reading is a dialogue. An educated reader participates in this dialogue by bringing his/her previous experiences and ideas to the discussion. As a work of literature ages the discussion can change and interpretations can lead to directions that the writer never forecast. Likewise, if the text has nothing to offer later generations then the discussion ends and the literature is no longer valued.

As suggested by several end of the 20th century "Best Of" lists, Gatsby still has much to say to us, Americans. And elevating it so high in our own canon draws the attention of the outside world who is interested in "understanding" us. But understanding takes effort, especially in reserving our initial reactions and our previous stereotypes and judgements. How do you react to something foreign? With curiosity? With disdain? Would we like to think that we are like Nick: "inclined to reserve all judgements" (Fitzgerald 5)? But also like Nick, we do not see how difficult this lofty ideal really is to attain. So, that makes us a bit like Gatsby too.

  • What can the character of Gatsby tell me about myself?
  • What can this novel tell me about my country? in the '20's? today?
  • What can this novel tell foreigners about my country?
  • How will I respond to World literature that I read next year? 
American Ideals Considered:
  • perseverance
  • hard work
  • self improvement
  • reason vs. passion
  • challenging traditions
  • compassion
  • responsibility to self and community
  • responsibility to the past
These are ideas presented in our literature throughout the year.
  • What do they mean to you? 
  • How are they presented in The Great Gatsby?
  • Are there any ideals that you would add to the list?

Monday, April 23, 2012

My kid's school rocks!

Front page news today - Gwyneth pictured blogging in the Free-Lance Star :) I'm still working on ways to make blogging more meaningful so that my students don't say "I have a blog, but not by choice." How can I help them use blogging as a way to explore their ideas and share them? The enthusiasm bubbling in the Lower School today reminds me to continue developing my curriculum so that my students can see their blogs as one way to show their writing and thinking skills as part of their positive web image.
My students: American Literature and British Literature.
My daughter's blog.