Thoughts on tough teachers

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From the Wall Street Journal
September 27, 2013, 7:17 p.m. ET

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results


I had a teacher once who called his students “idiots” when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

Eduhonesty: There’s so much truth in this article. I remember my toughest teachers with the same respect. I can still see their faces, while the features of less demanding teachers long ago faded into time’s mists. That said, all kids are different. That strict English teacher I wrote about a few days ago? He has a few “A” students who are working hard and enjoying learning. A greater number of kids want to drop out of his class. They complain about him vociferously.

I’d like to take a bold position here: I do think there is something to be said for labeling garbage for what it is. Kids know when they blew through their work. They shouldn’t be allowed to pass their courses by turning in half-baked thoughts that have been converted into half-assed writing. When we let them do this, we convince them that they can fake their way through their responsibilities, a life-lesson that’s likely to clobber them after they graduate.