A 7th Grade Reunion after 50 Years

Published February 16, 2012

Most of us can name one or more teachers who made a significant, maybe life changing contribution to who we have become. For me, it was my seventh grade teacher, Joyce Zeh. Turns out most others in that class felt the same, so we decided to reconnect with her and each other. When I told folks about my seventh grade class reunion their faces registered disbelief. Why seventh grade, they would ask?

Thirty-seven pubescent teens found our own magic kingdom in 1958 at Greenville Junior High School, long before Disney ever coined that term. We gathered last week, many coming from miles away, to pay tribute to this teacher and reestablish friendships severed by time, but mostly to share memories of that wonderful year.

As we shared Valentines of admiration and appreciation, recanting how our lives had been changed, it struck me that every child should have a teacher like Joyce Zeh…every year. What would it take to make this happen?

If we give more than lip service to “world class” schools there are several challenges we must overcome. First, and most obvious, we are not attracting the best and brightest into teaching. Our antiquated model for this profession neither encourages nor rewards excellence. Aside from parental influence the classroom teacher is the single most important element in education but we don’t treat them that way, compensating mediocre and poor teachers the same as master teachers. The best get paid little more than our plumbers or bricklayers. That’s got to change but, and this is a big but, we need a zero tolerance policy on mediocrity and a mandate to remove from our classrooms those who are, something that goes against the grain of NCAE and other groups. And parents cannot get a free pass on making sure students attend and are prepared for work each day.

Our colleges and universities must restructure teacher training for the twenty-first century to adopt new technologies, software and methods of instruction for both teachers and students. We’ve got to get politics and politicians out of the classroom, but that’s only going to happen when school boards, administrators and teachers earn that right. We also need a zero tolerance of poor management; too frequently we get excuses, not performance.

We need a societal mind-shift, deciding whether our schools are laboratories for social engineering or places where we educate the next generation. No matter how well intentioned we might be, all children do not have equal abilities, motivations or pace of learning. Yes, all children are capable of learning but we must be able to group them according to how much and fast they can learn instead of teaching to the average.

The teacher’s job description must change, removing from them much of the administrative functions (like bus and cafeteria duty), behavioral challenges and demands like providing healthcare needs, handing off many of these functions to admin types. And we must untether them from regulations, micromanagement and policies designed to restrict rather than encourage creativity. We can give master teachers more flexibility while evaluating outcomes instead of adherence to rigid policy.

Joyce Zeh was an extraordinary teacher, using innovative and personalized learning techniques to change lives. There are many just like her who deserve our support and encouragement

February 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm
rcampbell says:

This is a great story. Thanks for sharing this, and thanks to Joyce Zeh and all the teachers shaping young people in the classrooms of NC.