The Romance of Teaching

From favorite commenter Zic, commenting on Ta-Nehisi's blog:

Both my children had a social-studies teacher in 7th grade who acted differently when an observer was in the class room. When nobody was there (parent or administrator) she gave out 'sheet work,' made a pot of coffee, and sat with a romance novel while the kids were supposed to sit quietly and fill in endless word searches, crossword puzzles, and fill-in-the blanks.

I heard this from my first child; approached the administrators of the school about it, and you know, he must have had some grudge because he'd missed several field trips for being behind in her class. (He had an IEP, and among other things, this type of 'sheet work' was ill advised to this aural learner.)

Then two years later, same story. So I start questioning other kids, years between, further ahead. And yup. Nearly every day, teacher handed out the sheet work with no classroom discussion, poured a cup of coffee from the Mr. Coffee in her room, and read romance novels while the kids worked quietly at their desks.

Again, I went to the administrators. This time, they began to listen, because I took as many other parents along as I could find, each with a similar tale from their children. Finally, an evaluator sat in her room day after day, long enough to realize that she didn't really know how to conduct a classroom discussion. She'd been teaching for 20 years, using the same sheet work (this is her term, not mine), and failing kids left and right for not filling in the blanks.

She's no longer teaching.

What blows me away about this, beyond the obvious--20 years?--is that an educated person spent that 20 years reading romance novels.  All bad genre fiction is formulaic, of course, but at least when I had better contact with the publishing industry,  bodice rippers were the only genre with an actual formula--long documents handed out to writers specifying things like virginity, number of sex scenes (and how early they were to occur), age of heroine, etc.

Now, I don't want to denigrate the bodice ripper as a form of entertainment--there are worse ways to pass the time, and as anyone who has ever tried to write one can attest, pulling that formula off takes real skill.  But still--all day every day?  I couldn't read Proust with that level of dedication, and I'm very fond of Proust.

More on the substance of the LA Times teacher rankings later, after I'm finished shaking my head in disbelief.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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