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Friday, March 09, 2007

Being visited by scary reviewers

No, they weren’t actually scary. That’s merely what one of my students thought. “Weren’t you scared?” she asked.

Each department in the Weston Public Schools gets reviewed every ten years or so. This year it was the Math Department’s turn. A group of nine or so outside experts — teachers, college professors, curriculum developers, mathematicians — spends a few days examining our entire K–12 math program. They interview teachers, students, administrators, and parents; read the curriculum; look at copious examples of student work; and visit large numbers of classes. The purpose is to evaluate the program, not the teachers, so why did my student think that the reviewers were scary? I suppose it’s because she had been reading “Among School Children,” the famous poem by William Butler Yeats. (Do high school students still read Yeats?) Or maybe I’m just inventing the connection, but it definitely spurred me to read that poem again. I had forgotten that it contained another connection — with the application of trigonometric and exponential functions to music, which we studied in my precalculus class last month:
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
But that wasn’t what my imagination says inspired my student. It was, of course, the last line of the poem:
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
It’s impossible to separate the program from the implementers of the program, to separate the curriculum from the teacher. They are interdependent.

But the reviewers still weren’t the least bit scary. It’s always helpful to have an outside pair of eyes in the classroom, for they will inevitably see things that I as a teacher don’t notice. A professor from Williams College spent 80 minutes in my precalculus class and then met with me for 45 minutes to talk about it — an energizing and useful experience for me. He was suitably impressed by the focus, energy, and depth of thought shown by this group of students.

Now we’re just awaiting the reviewers’ written report. We look forward to seeing both their commendations and their suggestions for change. Stay tuned.

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