Parents' night provides a real education

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Like thousands of others, I attended parents night at my son's school a few days ago. I wanted to check out what Alex is learning his sophomore year in high school and what his teachers are like. I ended up getting quite an education.

His honors geometry teacher said she's sure we've heard how mean she is and that she's the worst teacher our kids have ever had. She spoke about how several students did poorly on the first two quizzes, and one freshman boy actually cried. "It's the pressure," she said. Sometimes high school is a rude awakening for kids. And then she told us to trust her, that she would "bring each kid along."

She gets excited about proofs, she said (which, I confess, are long lost in my memory, if I ever knew what they were), and suggested that as soon as it all clicks, the students will, too. "I told them that when they're 29, they won't remember doing poorly on their first geometry quiz."

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But they will remember the basics she's teaching, I thought. She'll call us if she needs us, she said, but in the five or so minutes she talked about our children and what she knew they could do, I had a feeling it was rarely necessary. Here was a teacher who loved her work and was making sure that no child would be left behind.

My son's history teacher couldn't stop talking about his love of the past. The class is learning about the French and Indian War. As he regaled the parents with anecdote after anecdote, I could see why my son likes to talk to him after class. The guy knows his stuff. When he's not watching the History Channel on TV, he's visiting historic sites around the country. He has an old filmstrip projector in his room because some of the material on the older filmstrips is more in-depth.

When Alex's English teacher said he didn't believe much in extra credit, I was disappointed. I had been hoping Alex could read a book or two for extra points. But his teacher explained that too often he'd seen the practice abused. Students would whine for extra-credit possibilities at the end of the semester because they hadn't done enough earlier. He was teaching life skills, too, the teacher said. He wanted students to do the work and to come to class prepared.

I don't know where my son's biology teacher got her energy at that time of night. She said the hair on her arms still stands up every time her classes extract DNA in a lab experiment. (I didn't want to know from what.) And like Alex's engineering graphics teacher, she spoke of loving the course she took that summer and how she enjoyed bringing her new knowledge into the classroom.

I realize not all schools are like my son's. We don't live in an affluent neighborhood, but the teachers I met are first-rate role models. They love what they're doing and are intense about their respective subjects.

One other thing several of them had in common was that each recalled a teacher who inspired them. It's the reason, they said, that they chose teaching.

May their students be so inspired by them.

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