, Derry, New Hampshire

July 11, 2013

COLUMN: Unleash the teachers

John Edmondson
Derry News

---- — Over the years, I’ve become quite the grill master.

It has nothing to do with following the instructions printed right next to the controls that list the perfect temperature and grill time for everything from turkey to lamb. But if it’s perfection I’m really after, I’m reminded to “use a meat thermometer for complete accuracy.”

I don’t need to check the vital signs of my chicken breast to determine if it’s ready to eat. I don’t use a timer and jump up the second the “recommended cooking time” elapses. I rely on my instincts, honed by experience and common sense.

I’ve been thinking that grilling is a lot like teaching. You can read the manual, or the teacher’s edition of a student text, and follow instructions, list a lesson’s goals and objectives. But until you make the experience your own, you’re likely to end up with disengaged students or a cook-by-numbers, and therefore bland, hunk of salmon.

I tended bar for a while after I graduated from college. At first I took my training to heart. I measured every ingredient as accurately as possible. I worried if the tiniest portion of martini remained at the bottom of the shaker. But over time, I stopped using a shot glass and relied on experience —and a dose of daring — to succeed behind the bar. A dash of Grand Marnier makes just about any drink better. That’s according to the customers who acted as my guinea pigs.

The Common Core is coming to a school near you — the federal government’s latest attempt to fix all that ails public education. Once again, math and language arts are the focal points, and the creators insist that teachers won’t be told how to teach to better prepare their students for college and the 21st century workplace.

But that hasn’t stopped education publishers from touting this or that program to get the “best results” for the assessments that aren’t fully developed yet. The beat goes on.

I say we unleash the teachers. Administrators, parents and especially students know who the great ones are. Though conventional wisdom says that kids can’t objectively evaluate their teachers, I’ve had many discussions with current and former students over the years that prove to me they can. It’s time to listen to what they say.

There are many intangibles to great teaching that can’t be quantified. But I’m sure instinctive teachers, the creative risk-takers, would gladly share their insights if only they were asked.

We don’t need to spend another decade wringing our collective hands over what to do about lousy test scores. Effective teachers know what works. Let’s invest the time and resources into finding out if those intangible skills can be taught to and learned by others.


John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.