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If not for my high school teachers…

2009 February 26

I am such the gadget guy. Last night around 7 PM, UPS delivered (why so late?) yet another piece of equipment I ordered for my winemaking: a digital pH and temperature meter. I also ordered two calibration buffers to ensure the accuracy of my measurements. After reading the instructions, I realized that I need some chemistry knowledge and apparatus to use this meter.

I know this isn’t an essential piece of equipment, but the thought of using little litmus test strips brought me back to high school chemistry class and I shuddered.  Ugh!  Chemistry was one of my least favorite subjects and the only reason I disliked it so much was the teacher. He made the class such drudgery and much like math—which I was good at, but also disliked—he never related any real-world examples of why we would need to use this knowledge.  If some really useful examples of chemistry were part of that class, my life today could be different. Okay, that’s a stretch, but I think some of the things I’m doing today, such as winemaking and baking, would be activities I undertook sooner if not for my distaste of chemistry and biology.

Last night was my turn to do family dinner. My brother-in-law, his wife, kids and his friend, Jerry, all came over and I treated them to homemade pizza.  The dough was a result of much experimentation and the bio-chemical process of baking. But the reason I bring this up is because all the other adults at the table last night are teachers and we got into a discussion about teacher performance evaluations. They were opposed to performance evaluations because they claim there is not any fair and objective method to judge a teacher’s performance.  I argued that in many other industries, performance is largely a subjective thing based upon many factors that can’t be measured. Yet, people in those positions are evaluated and given promotions and pay increases based upon these subjective factors. Why shouldn’t teachers have to live up to the same standards? Especially when there is a way to measure their performance: grades.

The reason this got under my skin was because many of the teachers I had in high school shaped my opinion of certain subjects.  Things that I enjoy doing today, such as writing, art, photography, and computers, were influenced by those teachers that showed a passion for what they taught.  They were genuinely interested in the subject and often had real-world examples that related to the subject. Subjects I found mundane, such as chemistry, biology, physics, history and French, were taught by teachers just going through the motions and plodding along towards retirement. They had the exact same curriculum year after year and my interest in the subject was a direct reflection of their teaching style. If you had an older sibling, chances were that they had the same teacher and you could study their old tests since they never changed. These kind of teachers should have retired long ago and if teacher’s unions weren’t so strong, their poor performance could have been recognized.

When I hear about the U.S. lagging in producing graduates in the fields of math and science, I immediately think about my high school teachers and the disservice they performed. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who hated those classes and that all across the country there were high schools with similar educators, going through the motions of teaching math and science. It’s no wonder so many students avoided those fields and that other countries such as China and India are now churning out more scientists than the U.S. When teacher’s unions stop protecting poor performing teachers and act in the interest of students, perhaps we’ll have more kids going into the math and science fields.

What do you think?  Did you have a teacher whose teaching caused you to avoid certain subjects in your education and your life?

Copyright © 2009, Eric Hwang and BricksOfWine. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eric Hwang and BricksOfWine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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