09 July 2007

Success Stories From Forensics Students

In It Doesn't Take a Genius: Five Truths to Inspire Success in Every Student, authors Randall McCutcheon and Tommie Lindsey challenge teachers to reach every student in the classroom. They offer five "truths" which are characteristic of teachers who make a difference with students and they support their claims with testimonials from their former students. Although this is a collaborative work, the only real cohesion in the book is the constant use of testimonials, which often seem too eulogistic and biased. Indeed, the book seems at times to be a defense of forensics as a means of elevating students from poor performance. Few of the testimonials refer to class activities not associated with debate, and both authors participated in forensics as sponsors. The authors alternated chapters and the result is not a conversation but a redundant splicing of two separate books about the use of forensics as a motivational tool with unsuccessful students.

Still, while the presentation of the material is flawed and awkward -- and focused through a philosophical lens which is inconsistent with private Christian education -- all effective teachers will agree that McCutcheon and Lindsey have highlighted some critical principles for reaching all students. The first truth they offer is "Be the first believer." Teachers often are the only individuals who see the promise in some students. Success is possible if teachers exhibit confidence in the students. Students need support, not unbridled ego-stroking. They need genuine encouragement, tempered with realistic advice, to help them achieve their goals.

McCutcheon and Lindsey remind us, secondly, that "class is never dismissed." Effective teachers use every teaching moment. They teach life lessons and help students make connections to previous learning, even when they are outside of the classroom. The job is not regulated by a time clock! Teachers in a sense never get a break -- they teach all the time.

"Words seldom fail you" is the third truth in the book, and the authors expostulate on the value of vocabulary. No self-respecting English teacher would disagree! Effective teachers are careful with their words. It's not enough to know grammar and vocabulary; good teachers are good communicators and inspire good communicators.

McCutcheon and Lindsey address issues of writing under the heading "Writers block but rarely tackle." I'm not sure how this truth really applies to success as a teacher, but this is the fourth truth to inspire success in every student. Perhaps what they are suggesting is that effective teachers help students move through the obstacles in the coursework. Teachers must be more than talking heads; they are coaches as well, who help students develop and perform.

The fifth truth is "paying your do's," which is a catch-all for the things the authors should have addressed earlier: loving, asisting, mentoring, risking, etc. These are some of the chapter titles in this section. Effective teachers love their students -- simple.

Perhaps the book's title sets it up for failure. This book is not really "five truths to inspire success in every student," but a collection of "success stories from forensics students." There are some truths in the book, to be sure, and these truths embody some of the characteristics of effective teachers, but the authors come short of the book's title.

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