Aya Academy of Excellence

Inch Deep, Mile Wide: Teaching Bart Simpson

My favorite Simpson clip of all-time is the one with Bart’s class receiving a full-day of recess when his teacher, Mrs. Edna Krabappel, couldn’t find the teacher edition of the textbook.  Message – some teachers do not know much of the material they teach.  What is the effect on students when a teacher’s depth of content knowledge is limited? 

In reflection, my best teachers were those who never cracked open the textbook.  Mrs. Ralph, my eleventh grade high school teacher had so many personal stories of the Civil Rights Movement, that at times, I forgot she wasn’t a history teacher.  Like my other accomplished english teachers – I went to school before the ‘language arts’ movement – Mrs. Ralph infused passion into her classroom instruction.  I never doubted Mrs. Bryant’s knowledge of grammar – her lessons on etymology are still with me today.  Just yesterday, I excitedly taught my social studies students how the  term unitary relates to dictatorship by pointing out that the prefix uni means one and that based on how they’ve already characterized dictatorships that the two words are linked.  The students constructed the meaning of dictator to include – dictators only allow one party, one way of thinking and only one person or group of persons perspectives.   Mrs. Bryant’s lessons are a blessing to my teaching today. 

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The impact of the excellent teachers I was blessed with as a student is evident in how I teach just not on what I teach.  Mr Garrett, my middle school math teacher reigned supreme.  He knew the subject so well that he could adeptly pinpoint where we were in error so that he could explain the steps we needed to take to solve math problems.  He looked over our work EVERYDAY and used it the next day to tailor instruction.  This was sound practice that preceded RTI.  Before Mr. Garrett, I never considered myself ‘good’ in math but his ability to teach it well made me ‘good’ in math.  To this day, I credit him with my near perfect score of a 98% on the math Course II regents exam. A lesser adept teacher wouldn’t have had the ability to impart the curriculum to me and that achievement therefore would not have been realized.

So why aren’t we all the best?  can’t we all bring in the passion of Mrs. Ralph, the content depth of Mrs. Bryant and the inspiring work ethic of Mr. Garrett?  I believe that a student will flourish in a learning environment that is safe with a teacher that is skilled in the art of teaching and possesses both passion and depth of knowledge in their content area.  My teachers loved their content.  I couldn’t imagine Mr. Stallone, my woodworking teacher, leading my class in math or Mr. Taylor, my earth science teacher, instructing the string’s section of the school orchestra.  The best teachers have their content so  tightly under their belt that they can focus on the art of delivering instruction to reach and teach each individual student.

Does this mean that teachers can only be well-versed in one subject alone?  Certainly not, teachers can and should expand their depth of knowledge in more than one area even if they only teach one subject.  When teachers can integrate other disciplines into their instruction, as Mrs. Ralph often did, instruction is much more engaging.  And for those who develop depth into more than one content area, teaching more than one subject is to the great benefit of their students.  But I fear, that some teachers are in too deep waters.  Who hasn’t heard the concern of middle and high school math teachers who believe that the academic gap in students is correlated to many elementary teachers not mastering math content?  Elementary teachers are expected to be a jack of all trades and for some, mastering math was not expected.  Over recent years, in response, districts have placed math coaches and expert math pull-out teachers in their elementary schools. 

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In our hearts,  all people desire to be good at what we do and within a teacher’s heart, she desire’s to bring out the good of all her students.  As they ask in New York, ‘What’s Good?”  What’s good is a teacher who possesses a passion for teaching, who is well versed in strategies to accommodate all learners, who establishes a safe learning environment and who knows more than the next page in the textbook. Afterall, who would ever want to be Edna K.?  Better yet, who would want Edna K. as their child’s teacher?


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  1. * mike green says:

    Nice commentary. I’m reminded of the process of teaching and learning I received at home from a divorced mother of five kids … in the 60s and 70s … in the south.

    Looking back on those years, I am in awe of how my mother understood best that SHE would have to be the best teacher in our lives. SHE would have to overcome the failed public schools we attended. SHE would have to save her children from the institutionalized problems deeply embedded in the educational factories designed to produce subpar and often defective products.

    Now, I am the one-on-one tutor who instills philosophy, ethics, cultural understanding, sociology, science and a plethora of knowledge that expands the cerebral horizons of my own children on top of the basic foundations of the 3Rs. The process of learning is lifelong. It would do all children and adults to have a yearning for it. Thank God I had a mother who instilled such a yearning in me.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 5 months ago

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