Could Ms. Frizzle Be a D.C. Teacher?

Aug 29, 2011

Washington, D.C.'s new teacher evaluation system IMPACT has made its results felt across the district, letting go of hundreds of educators who failed to meet its standards. We ask - how would famous fictional teachers stand up to its scrutiny?

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By Eric Garneau


Controversial Washington, D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee has left office, but the effects of some of her reforms are just starting to be felt. Chief among them: IMPACT, a teacher evaluation system that The Washington Post estimates has led to 206 teachers in the district losing their jobs. Though many support IMPACT's efforts to provide an unbiased assessment of teacher performances, some quibble with its methods, arguing that it prohibits more creative teachers from embracing their techniques. To see if that was the case, the Post attempted to apply IMPACT's standards to the famous Magic School Bus teacher Ms. Frizzle. They found, shockingly, that she would barely garner an 'effective' rating. We wondered how other fictional educators might fare.

Mr. Belding (Saved by the Bell)

Okay, he's not exactly a teacher, but Mr. Belding was the primary educational figure throughout all of teen sitcom Saved by the Bell's 5-year run (plus seven years of The New Class and one of Good Morning, Miss Bliss). There's also not a ton of evidence that he was a great educator, although his students surely loved him, despite what they said. One gets the sense that under IMPACT's rules, Mr. Belding would do fairly poorly, and perhaps that's a fair judgment. For instance, key IMPACT assessment points include 'adopting a classroom behavior management system' and 'leading well-organized, objective-driven lessons.' Despite the best intentions of Bayside's faculty, organization wasn't its strong suit; one would imagine that Mr. Belding loses significant points for letting his charges run afoul of the school time and again. Additionally, the evaluating Master Educators would probably frown at time-stopping in school halls.

Yoda (the Star Wars saga)

Unlike Mr. Belding, Luke Skywalker's sagacious guide Yoda definitely qualifies as a good teacher, at least in a galaxy far, far away. His lessons, though indirect and mysterious, allow Luke to master the power of the Force within him, thereby saving his friends and the whole universe. But wait a minute, Yoda. You didn't 'explain content clearly,' 'build a supportive, learning-focused classroom' or bother to 'improve practice and re-teach in response to data.' No, you crazy green Muppet, you're set in your ways, and even if they get the job done, they don't make for a very welcoming learning environment. You didn't address Luke's complaints, choosing to lead him further into confusion and uncertainty. Though he did learn his lesson, the framework you provided was less than optimal. Not so great in Washington, D.C. would you be.

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Dumbledore (the Harry Potter series)

Dumbledore's probably the number one fictional teacher most youth could identify now, and for good reason; J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of books captured the imaginations of a generation of readers. Unfortunately, Dumbledore exhibits a lot of the same educational drawbacks as Yoda. Sure, he's a lot more friendly than the Dagobah-dweller, actually taking Harry under his wing and giving him comfort instead of pushing him around all the time. Still, Dumbledore tends not to reveal the entire truth in any one of his lessons, preferring for his students to make the discoveries themselves. That may fly in the magical world, but IMPACT doesn't care for it. Dumbledore would probably fair better than Yoda in other areas, though; he's pretty good at 'developing annual student achievement goals' and 'providing students multiple ways to engage with course content.'

Charles Xavier (the X-Men comic books and movies)

Despite the fact that he constantly puts his students in danger (literally - their training area is called the 'Danger Room') Charles Xavier actually seems to do a pretty good job abiding by IMPACT's standards. His lessons are highly structured, clear in focus, rigorous and adaptive. In fact, he gets a lot of guff for being too difficult a taskmaster sometimes, but Charles always has his eye on student achievement. If he falters anywhere, it's that he doesn't always control his classroom environment; the tempers of his students flare up time and again, whether it's due to rocky interpersonal relationships or threats from world-destroying entities.

Mr. Feeny (Boy Meets World)

Both the most realistic and best legitimate teacher on our list, Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World probably made a lot of viewers jealous - why can't real teachers be like him? Feeny never strayed in his educational focus, always keeping his class set to learning their weekly lessons but taking the appropriate time to help students with their individual problems. In any world, fictional or not, it's hard to see how Mr. Feeny could rate anything but 'highly effective' as an educator - anyone who can thread that line between earning his students' respect and love deserves it.

Maybe Mr. Belding's not so safe after all - principals might soon face performance evaluations as well.

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