A Descent Into The Maelström: Public School Confidential (My Best & Worst Teachers)
A2PNotes: Ann Arbor is home to some 16,000 public school students. Those students are parented by tens of thousands of women and men who haven’t a clue about what their kids really do at school all day, not because they don’t want to know. Quite the opposite, most parents of school-age children want to know what happens in the classroom, the lunch room and on the bus. Elementary school parents are hectored into helping out at school; expected to be involved. However, middle and high school are quite different. Parents become personae non gratae not only in the eyes of kids who are trying to become more independent, but in the eyes of a school District that does not provide many opportunities for parent classroom involvement in the upper grades. So, A2Politico has asked two kids to write about their lives as students. One of these students attends the AAPS, and the other attends a local private school. For obvious reasons, these two will write their entries anonymously. So, look for A Descent Into the Maelstrom weekly, and read about what your kids wouldn’t tell you even if you asked.
The impact a teacher has on a student’s learning is one of the most important, if not the most important, factor in a student’s education and success. Ideally, teachers help students discover new skills and new concepts while making personal connections with each individual.
My experience has been that the more recently hired teachers have been much better teachers.
Teachers that have been in the classroom a shorter time seem to be, in my experience, more focused on the teaching. What I mean is they’re focused on getting the students to understand the concepts as opposed to just handing out a worksheet and saying, “Do it.” Newer teachers use different teaching methods that help the students excel. For instance, newer teachers use classroom discussion, peer-to-peer discussions, and they instruct the students about the concepts we’re learning.
The worst teachers ask students to grade their own homework. Students cheat when doing this. For example when I didn’t complete my homework I could just give myself the highest grade. It was wrong, but I did it, and I wasn’t the only student who did. The teacher then simply looked at the scores on a separate sheet of paper and entered the grades. The worst teacher I ever had never gave us any real assignments or homework. It might sound funny for a student to be complaining about not getting any school work, but if you don’t get any school work you don’t learn anything.
In contrast, when the best teacher I’ve had in the AAPS gave us work, it was an amount of work that we could get done in a single class period. My best teacher has only given us homework a few times this year. Homework, in my experience, has not been a gauge of how good the teacher is. This is because some teachers who give homework every night, don’t teach the material the next day. The students grade the nightly homework then do in-class work in groups and/or individually. My worst teacher didn’t facilitate the class. What I mean by class facilitation is that the teacher interacts with the students by asking the class questions and seeing what we know and what we’ve learned. This is important because if the teacher doesn’t facilitate, why do we need a teacher in every class? The AAPS could have just a couple of teachers per school who walked around, gave out worksheets—which the students would complete, grade themselves (possibly cheating), then turn in. My best teacher, who interacts with the class, makes learning more fun and almost painless.
Another major difference between my best and worst teachers is their classroom management skills. My best teacher is less controlling and gives the students more freedom to interact with each other. This translates to the students wanting to get the work done and do it well. We want to please the Teach. There are times when my best teacher has to send students out into the hallway. It happens about once every other week. My best teacher even occasionally gets angry and speaks loudly to the class, but this teacher doesn’t single people out. My worst teacher, on the other hand, sends students two or three times per day to the Office and frequently yells at individuals and the class. This behavior doesn’t help the teacher gain control over the class; it fuels defiance. The students act as though they don’t need to listen to the teacher. The result is that the teacher gets angrier and angrier and the students more and more defiant. And learning? What learning?
This year, of my total teachers, three of them use some, if not all, of the teaching methods and classroom management tactics used by my best teacher. To me, this has meant a better learning experience. I am learning more. It also had made me feel better about going to school, and made me want to do the work well. I feel like I am trying to work to my potential. This year, I still self-check some of my work, but I don’t cheat. The teacher who asks us to self-check the work, makes it much more difficult to cheat, and I have more respect for the teacher because I feel like the teacher has more respect for the students, the job and the material.
Why should you care about what my best and worst teachers are like? This Best and Worst in School is happening to your children too. I know this because there are 30 other kids in my classes with me. There are 16,000 children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and 1,078 teachers. I think continued evaluation of teachers even after they get tenure would improve the quality of instruction in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. I also believe that the AAPS needs to have higher expectations of students, as well, academically and behaviorally. The result of those two changes would mean an environment focused more on learning as opposed to “When’s the next break?” “When are we out of this class?” on the parts of both the students and the teachers.
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