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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On Great Teachers

I finally made my way through this year's annual New York Time Magazine education issue, which is chock-full of articles on important and timely topics, including the teaching of emotional intelligence (an idea near to my heart as a TOK teacher) and the use of tablets to enable personalized learning environments (a technology which I hope to learn more about at the OESIS conference next month). Among the many great articles, I found one to be a particularly worthwhile read: "The Real-Life ‘Glee’ in Levittown, Pa." Ostensibly about the author's former theater teacher, Lou Volpe, the article is an emotionally gripping testament to the importance of arts education and to the enduring impact of great educators—those who expect the best from adolescents. An excerpt:
Even though he didn’t speak in the idiom of the movement, much of what I observed in Volpe’s theater program could fit comfortably within the muscular language of education reform — with its emphasis on problem solving, standards, “racing to the top” and accountability. Theater is part of the “arts,” an airy term, but the time his students spent with him was actually the least theoretical part of their day. With each production, they set an incredibly high goal and went about building something.

At a rehearsal one day, he told his cast, “You have become so good that every mistake you make has a spotlight on it.” That seemed to me such an economical yet elegant way of giving praise while making a demand.
Just as I finished reading the article, my father shared some good news with me about a great educator from my past, Rebecca Holcombe. Ms. Holcombe, as I called her when she taught me middle school science decades ago, has been appointed to the post of Vermont Secretary of Education. I doubt she would remember me, but I certainly remember her, as she inspired me with her passion for science and demanded the best from me.

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