A Week in Perspective

The usual rhythms of the school week are a bit altered these days as the IB students, whom I teach, move towards their examinations in May. (They had also been altered by the school’s massive and successful participation over the month of March in the citywide music competition.) One very pleasant preview culmination took place last Friday with the opening of the Visual Arts students’ exhibition of work in the school’s gallery. Since the students have to show some skill with their artistic means and be able to explain or give a rationale for their work, we could enjoy not just looking at the pictures, sculptures and installations but also hearing the students talk about their work. The headmaster and other teachers and adults were in attendance, but I was especially pleased to see the place filled with students who came to see their classmates’ work. There is a particular sculpture that I hope will end up enlivening the ground floor of the IB building, and I would like to see some of the pictures on the walls too.

Students in subjects other than art are busily preparing for their exams, sometimes in class and sometimes out. I finished my last scheduled class presentations, so this week I offered some review of the use of sound in poetry, and I set an optional review paper for the students to write for mock marks. Most students signed up for both activities. Other teachers have been doing the same.

One teacher, absent for maternity leave, will be returning after the Easter holiday. Her substitute is a man who has retired from teaching at three outstanding schools in the United States as well as schools in Hong Kong. His mixture of knowledge, meticulousness and geniality is impressive, and the students have taken to him as well.

(It was interesting to hear him talk about his brief and unsatisfying tenure as an administrator at a school that was not so good as the places where he was accustomed to teach. He said that the principal would announce a series of teacher observations by coming in to his office and saying “OK, let’s hit ‘em!” It sent me down Memory Alley to recall an administrator of my acquaintance who used to address the teachers as “you people,” and another who would refer to the experienced teachers as “dead wood.” And I also thought of the degradations practiced on teachers of Atlanta by their administrators. The good administrators I have worked with would never even think of saying or doing such things. The old sub also told me about an administrator who told his teachers that there had to be an increase of 10% a year in their students’ grades from one year to the next, thus anticipating “value”-“added” “metrics” and Campbell’s-Law corruption in one fell thought. I wondered what happened to teachers foolish enough to stay at that school for ten years.)

I spent much of this week marking the essays we set for applicants to the school’s IB program before we start interviewing them. I will be taking part in the interviews after the Easter holiday, and I am marking essays for the IB Organization as a ToK examiner. Sometime I may write a parody of Frost’s “After Apple Picking” called “After Essay Marking.” Farmers and teachers work hard at picking apples and marking essays because they don’t like what they “grow” to fall to the cider heap. Dead wood indeed.

P. S.:  After posting this I appeared in the hallway and was corralled by some twelfth-grade IB students: it is their last day of class before the exams, and we had to pose for pictures together. When my higher-level students joined me, I told them, “Think of Cleopatra’s barge.” Did they laugh at the the thought of the barge or at knowing they were finished with it? And the sub: one of his students drew his portrait and gave it to him, while another picture they gave him depicted some hang-dog expressions with the caption, “Say it ain’t so. Do you have to go?” Some people want to replace this with “blended learning” and “virtual” (but not virtuous) classrooms?

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