Roger Ebert passed away yesterday. He was one of the only movie critics that I actually read and trusted. I began to wonder, what would a teacher evaluation look like if it were done like an Ebert movie review. So here it is, a fictitious teacher evaluation done like a movie review Ebert-style. See you at the movies. TBH
High School Biology 2013
Release Date: 4-5-21013
I once had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Corina Tipton at NSTA several years before she became the Worchester High School Teacher of the year and long before she became head of the Science Department. Back then, she told me then that her ambition was just to get students to “at least think about science as an everyday part of their lives. That science was something more than just a class to be taken or a book to be carried around.” I remember that quote quite well, even though it was many years ago. She was young, she was bright, and she had an air of confidence that youth affords. You could bet that if any young fresh-out-of-college teacher was going to make an impact, it would be Corina.
For anyone that has followed Corina’s career in the classroom, one automatically thinks to her seminal year of 1998, about five years after my original conversation with her, in which she did some amazing work all within the span of 18 months, not unlike Isaac Newton, who created the Laws of Motion and developed the Calculus while sitting around his parent’s farm waiting for the plague to go away in London. Corina in the span of those 18 months created the still memorable Worchester High Science Club, had four students become National Merit Scholar Finalists, had two students attend the International Science Fair, became a state science standards evaluator, and wrote curriculum for her school district that is still, at least in kernel form, used to this day. Of course, she capped it off with her Teacher of the Year award not only at her campus but for the district. She was nominated for state teacher of the year as well, losing to a less qualified but fan favorite from a larger city. To say she was robbed that year does not do justice to thieves.
Science teachers throughout the area have been chasing her legacy ever since that year, and sadly, she too has been chasing that legacy, something difficult for a rock star teacher to do once the lights on the stage start to dim with new young teachers always ready to step onstage and grab the spotlight. Chasing your own legacy is something akin to chasing the wind; you can feel it, you can get caught up in it, but you can never ever actually capture it.
Most of us are all familiar with her work; some of it good, some of it not so good. Her work with Mr. Gutierrez on the “Collaborative Frog Dissection 2002” was close to masterpiece. So too the “Trip to the Natural History Museum with Seniors ’04” her one trip that year. In recent years, she seems to have lost that original spark for the joy of teaching that she was so full of in the early years. She became better known for her “Angry Letter to Principal” and “Rant in Front of School Board” than for her actual classroom work. “Teacher Lounge Blowup 2000” will long be remembered as a low point. I had always said that a good teacher will make you see joy in learning sometimes but a great teacher will let you see the joy in learning all the time. Corina has slipped into sometimes in recent years. She used to be all the time.
I blame time and luck, not Corina.
Time has a way of changing teachers. Sometimes they change for good, sometimes they don’t. Whether you stay a rock star depends on a great number of variables, from your genetics, to your administrator, to the school you are assigned to, to the standardized test, to your family situation. Indeed, what a teacher becomes is very similar to the fate of students: The roll of the dice, the passage of time your lot in life.
Which brings us to Tipton’s most recent work, advertised extensively as her “come back” performance (something I hate when a person never goes away): “Cell Structure with iPads,” a follow up to last year’s “Onion Cell Dye Lab.” In this work, Tipton stars along side of, and takes advantage of the latest classroom technology. Corina knows that technology can be the star of any lesson, and appropriately uses it only after she shows the students the analog part of the lesson. Instead of the a typical lesson where students would do a lab after the introduction, Tipton instead uses the iPads using the App “Cells and Cell Structures”
Students were engaged throughout the lesson, even when one student appeared to doze off, he was really just reading the screen in the app with his head down. She kept the learning interesting, the students engaged and on task throughout the lesson. I stayed awake all day.
The first act of the lesson was lecture, an introduction to the cell structures, smoothly performed with a good use of leading questions using the famous 5E model. Engage indeed. I was and so were the students. She led us through the cell, plant vs. animal, structures as well, but purposely left off details. The reason for that came up in Act 2 when students were assigned a specific cell structure, and using their iPads, had to come up with ten facts about it. Most students were engaged and those that finished early were asked to create a wiki using Projectsharetexas, where students could put information in a table form.
The final act of the lesson had the students enter the information on the wiki, and then explain to the class what they came up with. This was an excellent use of the iPad, the Project Share site as well as a good collaborative exercise.
The lesson came to an end as it should have, with students recalling orally what they had learned not from their own assignment, but from others. Nicely done, and back in form. It is not so much what the lesson is, but rather what the lesson is about. She demonstrated here that she understands that. The technology did dominate, the teacher led portion did not dominate, the student learning dominated.
In the past, Tipton has made great use of the whiteboard and overhead projector. It is the mark of a growing educator to see her using more technology, something her students obviously appreciate. And even though she is not technically up tot he standards of say, Ms. Cromwell in the English Department, her efforts with technology are noted and I might say, I look forward to her future work in this area.
She also is taking risks by allowing herself to lose some of the “class control” that many teachers feel they must maintain at all times. By allowing the students to seek knowledge on their own, with little guidance, especially in a lesson that was being evaluated, shows her confidence is coming back. This cannot be a bad thing.
A friend once said “What I believe is that all clear minded people should remain curious and teachable.” I hope that Tipton remains curious. She can, and does, show flashes of brilliance, especially when she takes risks.
I hope that those flashes becomes a flame and lights itself as long as she decides to teach.
Corina Tipton is now appearing in “Biology Ninth Grade” at Worchester High School.