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The Teachers We Remember

The start of a new school year is an opportune time for teachers to ask themselves why they have chosen to teach ("The Gifts of a Teacher," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 25). I maintain that question is more relevant today than ever before because of the increasing weight given to measurable outcomes.  

The facile answer is that teachers choose teaching as a career in order to pass on to their students the knowledge and skills of their respective subjects. Standardized tests are supposed to assess their ability to do so. But I submit that the best teachers do far more than impart subject matter. The trouble is measuring achievement of that goal is not part of evaluating teachers under the law. 

The teachers that students remember most fondly are the ones who deeply cared about them as individuals. I've written often in this column that I've attended countless class reunions of the high school where I taught for 28 years.  What has always struck me were the reasons certain teachers were loved.  Students cited the little things said to them before or after class, as much as the overall tone of the classroom. I don't know if this practice can be taught to new teachers any more than a bedside manner can be taught to new medical students.  But I do know that long after subject matter is forgotten, feelings remain.

That's why I take my hat off to those teachers who have made a commitment to do their utmost to reach their students in the face of relentless pressure to boost test scores and post other data capable of measurement. They may not always be aware of the imprint they are leaving on their charges, but, believe me, it is there.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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