The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge... ...Albert Einstein.

Commentary of the Day - May 24, 2000: Innovative Methods Combined With High Standards = Great Teaching.

Marilyn Jachetti Whirry from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California recently was named 2000 Teacher of the Year.  From all reports, she is a truly outstanding teacher.  At age 65 this advance placement English teacher, who has survived a bout with breast cancer, follows a schedule that would leave people half her age gasping for breath.  However, it is not just her abundant energy that makes Ms. Whirry a worthy recipient of this honor.

In the Irascible Professor's view, Ms. Whirry has just what it takes to be a great teacher.  She knows her subject intimately.  Not satisfied with just a bachelor's degree in her field, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in literature while still a young woman.   She also knows how to engage her students and to transfer to them the passion for literature that she obviously possesses.  For example, when she first began her teaching career four decades ago she replaced lectures with group discussions, and she included contemporary literature as well as the classics in her courses.

However, lest you think that Whirry follows the "touchy-feely" approach, note that each term her students are required to read two dozen books and plays and to write more than 30 essays.  In addition, her students are expected to both analyze and compose poetry.  This is a teacher with high standards!  Nevertheless, her students find her enthusiasm for literature infectious, even though she has a reputation for being a tough grader.

Whirry also is a leader in the teaching profession.  She has presented numerous workshops to her fellow teachers on reading, writing, collaborative learning, and on standards and assessment.  She believes that teachers need to be involved in developing standards, in developing methods of assessing learning, and in determining ways to ensure accountability.  To put these ideas into practice, Ms. Whirry serves as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, the group that determines policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) exams.  She has worked diligently for several years to help set benchmarks for student achievement, and to develop appropriate ways to measure it.

She also is a strong proponent of professional development for teachers, and she believes that teachers deserve improved respect for their work through professional salary levels.  Although she is a union member, Whirry favors merit pay - fairly administered - to reward teachers who excel in the classroom.  Clearly, Dr. Whirry exhibits all the qualities that we expect in a great teacher: deep knowledge of her subject, enthusiasm for it, superb pedagogical skills, a caring attitude, and high standards.

The Irascible Professor heartily agrees with those who have named Marilyn Jachetti Whirry 2000 Teacher of the Year.  Congratulations Marilyn!

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© 2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.