Friday, March 4, 2011


Wednesday I spent 6 hours in a hearing of the House Ways & Means Committee of Maryland's General Assembly, waiting to testify on a bill regarding, predictably, our public charter school law. While there I heard testimony on a bill that would add teacher "ineffectiveness" to the list of causes for dismissal, along with things like poor attendance and moral turpitude (I don't think that term is used any more but I love the sound of the word turpitude a lot).

This would seem to make sense--as in other professions, if you're not doing a good job you should be, as they say in my partner's consulting firm, "counseled out." The problem is that, despite recent focused research and writing about what great teachers actually do on a moment-by-moment basis, no one is still very sure exactly what constitutes teacher effectiveness--or how to measure it.

Personally, I consider good teaching to be an art, much like poetry. So often the sum of a great poem is greater than its parts; while connoisseurs may appreciate the dazzle of discrete elements of a poem, there is an alchemical mystery to the overall effect, as in this one by Howard Nemerov. It is often this way in the classroom, too.

To David, About His Education
~ Howard Nemerov

The world is full of mostly invisible things,
And there is no way but putting the mind’s eye,
Or its nose, in a book,to find them out,
Things like the square root of Everest
Or how many times Byron goes into Texas,
Or whether the law of the excluded middle
Applies west of the Rockies. .......
........ such things are said to be
Good for you, and you will have to learn them
In order to become one of the grown-ups
Who sees invisible things neither steadily nor whole,
But keeps gravely the grand confusion of the world
Under his hat, which is where it belongs,
And teaches small children to do this in their turn.

Read the complete poem here, and catch the mysterious sums over at The Small Nouns with Ben on this Poetry Friday. He's leading with an homage to Lucille Clifton, also one of my favorite poets during all months of the year.


  1. i would love to see a survey done on those who legislate education and teacher effectiveness and find out what sort of students they were. i have a feeling we would a great deal about those who feel the need to measure, quantify, and define the invisible things in this world.

    teaching is an art indeed. keep up the good fight.

  2. Lots of discouragement in my neck of the woods about legislators who are making scary decisions about the teaching profession....


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