Quality vs. Quantity in Teaching  

Posted by inkstainedhands in

I have already mentioned in a couple of posts the letters girls wrote for an opinion magazine that our school organized. I discussed their letters on whether or not copying homework is ethical, but I have not yet posted anything about our other topic: quality vs. quantity in teaching. So here it is.

The question was whether teachers should stop to answer girls' hashkafic questions in class or just go on with the curriculum. Is quality or quantity more important in teaching? My position was the teacher should teach what she prepared, and if girls have question, they should ask them after class. I wrote a very long letter on the subject, but I had to shorten it for the magazine. So here is the shortened version:

"I have often heard students angrily complaining that teachers are only concerned with finishing the curriculum and could not be bothered about other relevant issues.

Students, let me ask you –– are your questions truly that important to you? Is there really an issue you need help with or on which you would like some insight? Or is your goal to disrupt the class so as not to have to learn?

If you have a long question that will disrupt the class and prevent the teacher from completing the planned lesson, please refrain from asking it in class. Although it is important to you, it might not apply to all of your classmates, whereas the teacher’s lesson applies to everyone and will be on everyone’s test.

I do encourage girls to seek a teacher’s advice when they need it, but I suggest that you do so after class. Most teachers are very obliging and generous with their time and will not mind spending lunchtime or free periods talking with you. If you really want to discuss an issue, you will not mind using your free time for it. There are those who are eager to ask their questions in class, but when they are told to wait, they mutter, “whatever,” and decide the answer is not worth the effort or time. Such an attitude suggests that the question was not that important to begin with.

If you believe an issue is important and widespread enough that it needs to be discussed in class, tell the teacher so after class.

Also, have some respect for your classmates. While you may think the issue you are dealing with is more important than the lesson, other girls might not be of the same opinion.

So no, teachers should not stop to answer girls’ hashkafic questions. I believe that “quality” is learning what you are taught and then seeking further clarification outside class. In addition, the best response you can receive is in private, when a teacher can answer your questions more fully than she would in a public setting. Both quality and quantity are important, so seek both."

So that was my letter. Here are some quotes from other letters and my replies to them:

One anonymous girl wrote, "Very often, a teacher prepares a lesson that she feels poses an issue or problem that's applicable to her students, but in reality, few people are able to relate to it." Oh, really? Just because you feel you cannot relate to it does not mean that others cannot. I appreciate the lessons a teacher gives over, and I can relate to many of them. Who are you to judge what people can relate to and what they can't? Even if only ten out of twenty five girls can relate to a certain lesson, that already makes it worth the time. If a teacher is teaching a certain lesson, there is a reason behind it. You can't just pick and choose what you want to be taught based on your personal thoughts and issues. If you want a personalized education, where YOUR issues are addressed, I suggest you drop out of school and go learn on your own. Actually, scratch that. I do not encourage anybody dropping out of school. I merely mean to say that if you have things you want to know, you should seek out the answers by yourself. You can even ask the teachers, but do not assume that because you feel something is important it is necessary to dedicate a class to it.

This same girl also wrote that "Hebrew teachers don't have to rush like nuts, for, after all, there are no regents at the end of the year for which all the material must be covered!" Ah, so Regents are more important than Judaism now? I think it is just as important to be taught more about your religion as it is to cover the Regents curriculum. Learning should not just be about the tests. Why can't people learn for the sake of learning? Does one have to be tested on a subject in order to feel that it is worth learning?

The girl goes on to write, "School is meant to be a learning experience, and if the students' issues aren't being addressed, then the purpose of school is not being accomplished." First of all, the purpose of school is not to answer all your questions. The school never claimed that it was going to give you all the answers you sought. Second of all, who said the students' issues cannot be addressed? All I am saying is that students should not interrupt a teacher's lesson in order to ask their questions. If these students have issues, why can't they go over to the teacher after class and ask? Is it really so hard to ask a teacher between classes or during lunch as opposed to during class? I think these girls are more interested in interrupting the class than they are in receiving answers to their questions, because if their questions were really so important, they would not make such a big deal out of asking outside of class.

Another girl brilliantly wrote, "If you want to get out of learning, just stay home and stop wasting everyone's time." Finally -- someone with common sense! Here is another one of her statements that I applaud: "Honestly, if your question is that important, and so applicable, to nearly everyone, it'll probably be discussed without any interventiopn by you. And if it really isn't, just bring it up by sicha, or even by Shabbaton's 'Shmooze Your Views.' Isn't that what they were designed for?"

Another reasonable girl wrote, "Teachers worked hard preparing for us -- we should listen." Finally -- a teenager that does not think that the world revolves around her. What a wonderful discovery! She makes a very valid point here. Do girls have any idea how much time and effort goes into every single lesson? These teachers work so hard to prepare the lessons for us, so how can students be so careless about it? I think I started to fully appreciate their effort once I started doing Honors Parsha. Honors Parsha means you prepare three parshiyot a year, with Rashi and miforshim, and teach them to a class. It took me hours just to prepare one lesson. Can you imagine what it takes for a teacher to prepare a whole school year's worth of lessons? Have some respect.

Here is a quote from another letter: "If a student is asking a question, there is a reason why. It might be a cry for help, curiosity, or something the student is confused about. Either way, the teacher should answer the question." Breathe in, breathe out, answer calmly. Okay, here we go. Of course there is a reason why a student is asking a question! But sometimes, the reason is that the girl does not want to learn and is trying to waste everyone's time! And if a question is a cry for help, please explain to me why a girl would want to ask it in public then?! If you're going through something very difficult, why would you want to announce it to a full class of teenagers? I just don't understand it. Go over to a teacher after class, ask your question, clear up your doubts, get some help. Why is it necessary to ask it in the middle of class? Does your issue have to be a soap opera or a drama that the whole class is watching? (That would actually explain the munching sounds I hear of girls chewing popcorn during class.)

This girl claims that asking a teacher after class is not the best solution because "there may be other students in the class who have the same question, but are just too embarrassed to ask." If a student thinks that other girls have the same question, it is possible to tell the teacher so after class, so the teacher can decide whether or not she would like to address the issue with the whole class. Maybe then the teacher can even prepare a better answer than she would have been able to give if asked on the spot in the middle of class.

This girl claims that another reason why a student might ask a question is "that the class is boring and the students can't handle it anymore. They need a way out of the subject, and if that's the case, I think it's time for the teacher to change the way she teaches." Oh no, more teenage selfishness, thinking the world revolves around them. Spare me. If you need a way out, just cut class and deal with the consequences. The teacher does not have to change her curriculum because of those few inevitable girls who think it is boring.

Another anonymous writer gave the extreme example of a girl who is struggling with her emunah. "A teacher may refuse to give class time to discuss such a topic -- she figures it is just an excuse to waste time -- and then the student would never receive the necessary and proper answers. Without these answers, her situation may worsen, chas v'shalom." What a tragedy. This girl is incapable of asking a question after class and will destroy her life because of her stubbornness. For some reason, I feel no pity for her. If she is struggling with something and needs help or support, she should seek it outside of class. Why do girls have this attitude and assume that their questions cannot be answered unless it is in the middle of the teacher's lesson? If a girl doesn't value the answer enough to ask for it after class, that is her problem. I will even go so far as to call it stupidity.

Something happened a few weeks ago that illustrates this point perfectly. One girl had a halachic question and wanted to ask it during class, even though she knew perfectly well that the teacher's policy was not to stop for questions in the middle of the lesson. When she saw that he was not stopping because of her raised hand, she quit and said, "I'll just get the halacha wrong -- it's his fault." I told her that that is a stupid way to look at it, and she should just ask him after class since her question is important. She replied, "I'm not asking after class. It's my free time." So this is the attitude teenage girls have apparently. Their time is so precious to them that they would rather get a halacha wrong than spend a minute of their time asking for the right answer.

If something really is that important to a girl, she would not mind asking after class.

Bottom line: Stop wasting class time! Sit, listen, absorb the lesson. Maybe you'll actually get something out of it if you don't spend the entire forty minutes thinking, "What question can I ask that will interrupt the lesson well enough? What would the teacher think is valid enough to stop a lesson for?"

Seriously, grow up.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at Wednesday, June 17, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

8 comments

Anonymous  

Hej.
Reading your article about "quality" and "quantity" in teaching was very interesting.

I'm involved in a project at the moment dealing a little bit different questions, but very interesting, too:

"What about free expression in school and and how it fared in the main subject areas??"

It is a look into free expression in school and how it fared in the main subject areas, we'd like to know how students think their school, school district, or college fared. So we designed a "Report Card".

Would be great if you fill in the cards and send it to me (jana@ncac.org):

http://ncacblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/schoolreportcard.pdf

Would be very interesting!!

Thanks a lot in advance!

If you have any questions visit our blog: http://ncacblog.wordpress.com
or send me an email: jana@ncac.org

Best,
Jana (Intern at NCAC=National Coalition Against Censorship)

June 17, 2009 at 3:20 PM

I'm reading your post and here are a few comments I want to make, because I soooooo disagree with you.

1. If the question is asked after class a) that teacher could easily shrug off the difficult question especially if she doesn't like that girl b) other students in class would not be aware of the issue and will not be benefiting from it c) it could impact understanding of the rest of the lesson d) there is generally little time between classes and girls have places to go after school.

2. "Students, let me ask you –– are your questions truly that important to you? Is there really an issue you need help with or on which you would like some insight? Or is your goal to disrupt the class so as not to have to learn?"

If the question is raised teachers must assume that answers are important, otherwise it means that teachers have no respect to the students they teaching and should look for a different career. Even if that girl is trying to disrupt the class, forming a relevant question takes thought and understanding of the subject, thus she may learn more just by thinking of how to phrase the question.

3."If you have a long question that will disrupt the class and prevent the teacher from completing the planned lesson, please refrain from asking it in class. Although it is important to you, it might not apply to all of your classmates, whereas the teacher’s lesson applies to everyone and will be on everyone’s test."
Here you are saying that girls should worry about the test more than the subject itself, yet a few paragraphs down you said quite the opposite:
" Learning should not just be about the tests. Why can't people learn for the sake of learning? Does one have to be tested on a subject in order to feel that it is worth learning?"

So, which one is it? learning for the test and not diverging from the preplanned curriculum, or learning for the sake of learning and covering all pertinent areas of the subjects even the ones not prepared or eliminated by the teacher?

June 19, 2009 at 1:14 AM

4) " Most teachers are very obliging and generous with their time and will not mind spending lunchtime or free periods talking with you."

Teachers are people too, especially in Yeshivahs these teachers usually have children and grandchildren. Taking their time with questions outside of class, means taking time from their grading papers and doing other stuff. Besides, you are not paying them for this time, and time is money. Class time, on the other hand is paid for. I remember being in school and feeling weird about bothering teachers after class or between classes.

5)" If you believe an issue is important and widespread enough that it needs to be discussed in class, tell the teacher so after class."

And teacher is not allowed to prepare a specific class for that issue unless she has it cleared with the principal and school committee and etc. It is usually simpler to answer the question and have a short discussion on the subject than deal with all the politics.

"Also, have some respect for your classmates. While you may think the issue you are dealing with is more important than the lesson, other girls might not be of the same opinion."

Screw them. The world is not fair. Let them learn to live with it. In this life one should think of oneself first and only then of others, because others will not think of you first. If these girls are constantly thinking about the rest of the class to the detriment of their own selves than they will never learn and will be confused and will never accomplish anything.

6) "I believe that “quality” is learning what you are taught and then seeking further clarification outside class. In addition, the best response you can receive is in private, when a teacher can answer your questions more fully than she would in a public setting. Both quality and quantity are important, so seek both."

Nope, what if other girls are not satisfied with teachers explanation? What if clarification of that question will bring understanding to the rest of the subject? If she waits until after class, than teacher would have to repeat the lesson all over, because this girl never understood it.

June 19, 2009 at 1:15 AM

7) "Oh, really? Just because you feel you cannot relate to it does not mean that others cannot. I appreciate the lessons a teacher gives over, and I can relate to many of them. Who are you to judge what people can relate to and what they can't? Even if only ten out of twenty five girls can relate to a certain lesson, that already makes it worth the time."

So, you are basically saying that these 10 out of 25 girls are not important. That's 40% of the class. May be their parents should not be paying tuition, either. After all, that teacher is not teacher these kids, but only the other 60%.

"If a teacher is teaching a certain lesson, there is a reason behind it." Yes, there is, school principal or committee decided that she should be teaching it.

8)" If you want a personalized education, where YOUR issues are addressed, I suggest you drop out of school and go learn on your own." Isn't that the reason behind private yeshivah education? To enable teachers to teach towards each student and not some middle ground American. A simpler solution than private tutoring.

9)" Ah, so Regents are more important than Judaism now?" No, regents are mandated by the state and teachers who are teaching regent classes have no choice but to stick to the state mandated curriculum, even if students end up with questions. There is no mandate with Jewish subjects. I heard of a boy school where a class spent a whole semester discussing a few sentences in the Gomorrah, while the parallel class went way ahead and covered other subjects. These students did research, poured over books and contacted prominent rabbis about the issue. Who are you to say that they were wasting time rather than learning?

10) "School is meant to be a learning experience, and if the students' issues aren't being addressed, then the purpose of school is not being accomplished." I totally agree.

11) "Another reasonable girl wrote, "Teachers worked hard preparing for us -- we should listen." Finally -- a teenager that does not think that the world revolves around her."

IT'S THEIR JOB. They prepare the lesson, but if someone goes off tangent they should be able to answer it. If they don't have the answer, they should write it down and answer it at the next session. I am not a teacher, but do you know how many times I would work hard on a project only to learn that it was eliminated and no longer needed. That's life. Teachers should be able to deal with it, rather than leaving an unsatisfied class.

12) You'd be surprised how many people are there who went OTD because teachers did not answer them in class. Actually, that is the main reason that they give. They feel that they were doing things like sheep ready for slaughter and everyone refused to answer their difficult questions because they weren't appropriate.

June 19, 2009 at 1:16 AM

Instead of quoting you to reply to certain statements, I'll just go by your numbers.

1a. In my experience, teachers are more willing to answer difficult questions outside of class. Very often, teachers don't want you to introduce a certain topic in class. Either they don't want to discuss it in front of everyone, or it is personal and it's something they don't want to say to the entire class. Some topics the teacher feels the rest of the class is not ready for. In private, however, they will answer you, and those answers will be better than what they can give in class. After class, you are able to describe more accurately what you are going through (which is usually not something you want the rest of your class to know) and you get more personalized answers, which will help more than an answer given to the whole class in general.

b. Unaware of the issue? Why then would they have to hear the answer?

c. I am sure that the way the teacher gave over her lesson was how she meant students to learn it.

d. Oh, please. If the question is important to the student, she will find time for it. I found plenty of time.

2. Now that is just ridiculous, not to mention way too indulgent. If the students want to exercise their brains by forming questions they don't really have -- fine, let them do so. But then let them keep their mouths shut and keep those questions to themselves if they're not important.

3. Girls should be learning for the sake of learning, but realistically speaking, most of them don't. But what does matter to them are the grade and the tests. Why would you think that I said girls should worry more about the tests than the subject itself? What I was saying was that these girls who don't care about learning should at least care about the fact that the material will be on the test and they have to know it anyway. I am in no way saying that the test is more important though.

And who said that learning the preplanned curriculum cannot be for the sake of learning? When I sit in some classes, I learn it because I WANT to. I learn it for myself, not just for the tests. That is what I mean by learning for the sake of it; the curriculum does not have to be thrown out the window in order to learn.

4. The teachers are the ones who say that you should go over after class if you have a question! They prefer not having their lesson interrupted by a bunch of girls making up questions. I don't know what school you went to, but in my school, I feel very comfortable approaching teachers after class. I once mentioned to one of my teachers that I feel bad for bothering her all the time outside of class, and she assured me that it is not at all a bother and that she doesn't mind answering my questions.

5. She isn't planning a specific class for it. If the teacher feels the issue is important enough, she will set aside 15 minutes or so and talk about it. That does not have to be cleared or anything. Teachers have done that in the past.
As for your argument that the world is unfair -- I'll use your logic. These girls with questions should know that life isn't fair and the class does not have to cater to them. Deal with it. I dealt with it and others can too.

June 19, 2009 at 2:28 PM

6. First of all, we're discussing long hashkafic questions and answers now, not the one minute type that go something like, "Can you please explain what ___ means and how it connects?" Second of all, if there is one girl who does not understand the lesson because of a long question, she should definitely ask the teacher after class. Everyone else seems to get it, so why should the class be about one girl's question?

7. I am saying that the teacher's curriculum is important, and that even if only part of the class is getting something from it, it is worthwhile. The teacher has a set curriculum that she is going to teach -- it does not depend on what percentage of girls it applies to, but on the fact that that is the curriculum. Parents pay tuition knowing that this is what the system is. If the parents wanted personalized education and that every lesson should cater to their daughter's needs, they can homeschool or hire private tutors. There is no need to disrupt the entire class because of that.

8. Yeshivot cater to a more specific audience, but not necessarily to every individual. As I already said, if you want a personal education for your daughter in which she gets all her questions answered and everything is the way she wants it to be, hire a tutor or teach her yourself.

9. Why should girls not learn the full curriculum just because it is not mandated by the government? This is Judaism -- it's our life. Just because the government isn't mandating it doesn't mean that the curriculum is not important and should not be completed. If a Jewish yeshiva is teaching something, it is important. If the school board decided to include this in the school's education system, there is a reason for it. And did I ever say that the boys spending more time over the Gemara were wasting their time? If their yeshiva allowed this, and they were really learning something and going deeper into it perhaps than the other class, fine. But if the school's system calls for finishing the set curriculum the way it is, and not skipping some subjects and going deeper into others, then that is how it should remain.

10. I disagree on so many different levels.

11. The students can ask the teacher, politely, after class, if she can answer a certain question because it is bothering a lot of students. It is then up to the teacher to decide if she wants to answer it or not.

12. I'm sure those people had other problems besides for teachers not answering their questions. That is just an excuse. If they would have asked a teacher after class, or a Rabbi, they perhaps would have had better chances of getting an answer. You know what? I'm talking from experience. Teachers usually refused to answer my questions in class, either because they were difficult, not appropriate for the rest of the class, or whatever the reason may be. Did I feel some resentment? Yes, I did. Was I angry because I had questions and they weren't being answered? Yes, I was. But guess what! I grew up and learned that the world does not revolve around me, and sometimes you have to put in a little more effort if you want your question answered. So that 14-year-old girl was somewhat rebellious (although the main reason was not that my questions weren't being answered), but now this 17-year-old girl writing to you is a bit more reasonable and is therefore getting more questions answered.

June 19, 2009 at 2:40 PM

I totally disagree with you.

I was the type to ask "useless" questions to waste class time (I had a teeny class for hebrew specifically geared towards BT's). I don't think a single teacher EVER finished any curriculum started in the time I was in HS. But I found I learned A LOT more by asking questions to "waste time" then I did by listening to what the teachers prepered. Because what they prepared I could've asked anyway (Rabbi or other learned scholar) for a 123 synopsis, but anything I got from discussions was long lasting.

Did you ever watch Saved By The Bell by any chance? I have a point, but I'm not going to make it if you won't even know what I'm talking about.

June 19, 2009 at 7:13 PM

"I totally disagree with you." -- Haha.. what's new there?

"But I found I learned A LOT more by asking questions to "waste time" then I did by listening to what the teachers prepered." -- But wouldn't you have learned more by learning what the teachers prepared AND THEN asking your questions after class and learning from that too? You get two for the price of one.

"Did you ever watch Saved By The Bell by any chance?" -- No. Sorry to deprive you of the opportunity to make a point.

June 20, 2009 at 11:17 PM

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