When Teachers’ Hands Are Tied


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The snow continued to fall here in Garrett County from October into April; before Easter, public school students had missed their 14th day this year. All this talk rejuvenated my teacher genes and thoughts about education.

A teacher friend of mine recently told me that her principal now insists that her failure rate not exceed 2%. Do you find it odd that the reference is to her failure rate? When did students gain exemption from their responsibility to do homework, stay after school for extra help, and study? Something has gone very wrong with the system.

Quality teachers plan well, vary their methods of presenting the material, and engage students in thinking. Students need direction through chemistry experiments,  difficult novels, the whys behind historical events and explanations with varied approaches to solving math equations. Good teaching involves not merely a monologue, but rather, a dialog.  Any teacher that teaches for mastery must have students willing to work inside and outside the classroom.

Dave’s mother learned Japanese as a child when her parents went to Tokyo as missionaries in 1919. While being taught at home via the Calvert School materials (Yes, Calvert School homeschooling has quite a history!), Mom Wolfe also attended Japanese schools and mastered the language amazingly well. The artwork below is actually a benediction written in Japanese. Now matted and framed, it adorns the walls of Bryan and Stacey’s dining room. Mom Wolfe had a high school education and a year of business college, but when we met a Japanese woman on our tour of Willliamsburg in 1977, Mom easily lapsed into Japanese conversation with this other tourist. Learning any foreign language takes time, effort and practice, but then, Mom never lived in a time when her teachers had to make sure all but 2% of the class passed courses.

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I retired from full-time teaching a decade ago now, and I am thankful quotas for passing/failing students were not part of my experience. As Americans we often shake our heads in dismay over the superiority of many students from other nations. The U.S. has bright kids, technology galore, capable teachers. Why hamstring learning by insisting on forcing teachers to pass students who do not know the material?

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