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This summer’s required reading is an essay from a retiring Salem teacher that is being shared around the country.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
When a retiring Salem High School teacher’s essay hit our inbox, all 1,117 words of it, the commentary editor stayed the instinctual reaction to ship it back and ask the writer to adhere to our 750-word rule for unsolicited op-eds.
Joan Vannorsdall’s “A letter to the ones left behind” was well written, if perhaps not novel in topic. It isn’t unusual for a retiring teacher, freed finally to speak her mind without fear of retribution, to point out the flaws of a public education system that holds increasingly higher expectations and requirements of classroom teachers while simultaneously decreasing their worth both in earning power and in the esteem in which the profession is held.
But Vannorsdall had crafted something quite remarkable, a valuable parting lesson rarely voiced in the debate over how to elevate the level of knowledge acquired by students: The act of teaching is impossible without the act of learning.
Teachers are responsible for teaching effectively, efficiently, creatively and memorably.
Students are responsible for engaging with the teacher’s offerings, internalizing them, and demonstrating understanding, and then mastery.
For the mathematically inclined, the formula looks like this:
Teacher Quality and Effort + Student Quality and Effort = Long-term Quality Learning.
Realize that if you remove one of the factors on the left, the unbalanced seesaw crashes to ground. So if your students choose not to do an assignment, or fall asleep in class, or doodle on their sketchpad rather than engage in discussion, they are not holding up their end of the bargain.
Remember: The act of learning is the student’s responsibility. Not yours. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Vannorsdall’s words have been the subject of much commentary. Her essay on roanoke.com/opinion has been viewed more than 70,000 times and shared around the country via social media.
In response, teacher H. Foreman wrote, “I love the equation so much, I intend to publish it on my classroom wall. In eighth-grade science, I teach how to balance chemistry equations. Below it will be the question: ‘Are you keeping the equation balanced?’ ” A thought-provoking question for all sides of the equation.
Vannorsdall’s essay should be required reading and not just by teachers (her intended audience). It is a message worth stamping as a preface in student handbooks.
Students should know there will be a test on it every day of their attendance on Earth. It is not enough just to show up.
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