Back to basics

In my two and a half years at Ridgefield High School, I’ve come across some pretty fantastic teachers. After all, RHS is not the third best school in the state for nothing. Some of my teachers at RHS have been true educators, inspiring me to push harder, learn more and genuinely love their class.

However, like much at Ridgefield High School, teachers seem to come in extreme forms. When they’re good — as the overwhelming majority are — they can be incredible. But when they’re bad, a select few teachers can be unbearable.

These teachers are not secrets to the RHS student body. We’re perfectly aware that just mentioning a certain teacher can exact groans from our friends. As soon as schedules are sent out, we flock to, a website which allows students to post ratings about teachers and warn students about potential pitfalls.

The ratings speak for themselves. Some teachers receive glowing ranks, while others are marked with posts that say, “Switch Out Now.”

What I don’t understand is why these teachers continue to slip under the administration’s radar — especially with Principal Gross’s new initiative to spend more time in the classroom.

In a recent conversation I had with Dr. Gross, she told me about “Thursday Walk-Throughs.” These walk-throughs are preplanned, and give Dr. Gross the opportunity to drop in on a class. She does not evaluate teachers during these walk-throughs, but does get to interact with students and see how things are going.

I applaud Dr. Gross on her efforts. As she told me, it is essential for a principal to maintain a presence throughout the school and ensure that students are receiving the best possible instruction.

So why can’t these walk-throughs, coupled with normal teacher observations and evaluations, weed out RHS’s few bad teachers?

Because the teachers know what’s expected of them.

The Connecticut State Department of Education has recently changed the method of teacher evaluations. Teachers now are graded using a rubric, and are encouraged to create a “student-centered classroom.” That means rather than teachers standing in front of a black board, the ideal class now involves group work, labs and projects, in essence, students engaging with the learning material.

Teachers, even bad teachers, know how to score well on a rubric — they’ve been assigning them to students for years. I’ve experienced bad teachers hastily assigning a group project for an observation day, and then returning back to normal as soon as Dr. Gross leaves. And as fun as it is watching teachers get observed (for once, they’re the ones getting graded), preplanned observations aren’t a true indicator of a teacher’s abilities.

I don’t know what the answer is. While part of me wishes teachers were observed unexpectedly, I don’t want my teachers to worry I’m not the focus of every lesson. I want them to do their jobs, to teach me, rather than have me report in front of the class each time the head of their department stops by.

Maybe it’s time we got back to basics.

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  • RidgefielderTurnedMarylander

    As a Ridgefield High School graduate and current education non-profit professional, I was shocked and angered upon reading this article. Sure, some teachers are more engaging than others. I think everyone can attest to having had incredible educators in their lifetimes and others fade into our memory’s obscurity.
    But that’s not what angered me. What upset me most about this article was the lack of perspective that the author employs. First, know your facts. The reason teachers stick around even after some students have deemed them as terrible, is because they have tenure. Just because 14 year-olds in an Honors English I class think that a teacher is less than adequate doesn’t mean anything. Teachers who participate in a number of observations and other professional development opportunities are given tenure through their local district and union. Tenure ensures that a teacher has a place at the school because the administration has verified their abilities.
    Second, “bad teachers” at Ridgefield High School will not dampen your educational opportunities. Going to a school like RHS automatically puts you on a path to college and beyond that so, so many of our nations’ children do not have access to. Be grateful for this gift of privilege.
    Third, once you get to college, there will be “bad professors.” There will be professors that will never learn your name. There will be professors who have studied their subject matter extensively and are then given a class of non-major students (the will be incredibly difficult to understand and may not know how to engage students who are not preparing for a career in their field). There will be professors who cancel class and still expect you to know the material. You will have to learn to navigate these challenges, and many others once you reach the world of higher ed and beyond.
    Instead of complaining about giving presentations (which demonstrate to classroom observers a level of your content synthesis, a mark of a good educator), relish in the opportunity to learn that much in life will be like high school and if you can pass that test, you’ll be able to ace what comes next, too.

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