Letter To The Editor: Parent’s Perspective On Teacher

By A Los Alamos Parent:
I don’t have any first hand experience with Mr. Daniel’s (former LAHS drama teacher) facebook post or his comments at the XQ assembly that created controversy. I can only comment on what I have experienced as a parent of a student in his class. And suggest that perhaps the reason Mr Daniel’s contract was not renewed was because he did not follow school guidelines for publishing grades and was not a good teacher.
My daughter had Mr Daniel for Theatrical Design. I became concerned when about halfway through the semester Mr. Daniel had not yet entered any grades in Power School. I asked my daughter about it, she said they didn’t have any graded work. He had informed students at the beginning of the semester that they would be asked to produce artifacts and to write an essay at the end of the semester to justify their grade, but I did not think that meant that he would not grade any assignments. In the other performing arts classes, band and choir, for example, the teachers give participation grades to show that students were prepared and engaged in class – I expected at least this much.
On Feb. 28, Mr. Daniel finally entered seven participation grades, one grade for each week of class (see attached graphic). I had an opportunity to ask administration about it (without naming Mr Daniel). I was told that they were aware that some teachers were not entering grades as often as they were supposed to and that they were going to be reminded to do so. After asking follow-up questions, I found out that according to the teacher handbook or policy (not sure exactly what it is called) teachers are supposed to enter a minimum number of grades per week. Mr. Daniel entered grades two more times: on April 3 he entered four more participation grades, on May 24 he entered three more participation grades and a grade for the “Final Learning Record” (which I will address later).
My experience: Mr. Daniel did not follow the grading policy. If he was asked to comply and refused, then perhaps this explains the reason given for termination: “He did not respond positively to attempts to mentor him.”
Now I would like to elaborate on how he was not a good teacher. First, with the above as part of the evidence, he did not give students useful feedback. My daughter tells me that they had a few projects in class and wrote critiques, but that Mr. Daniel did not provide any comments on what they had written. I would expect that part of teaching is to give students some feedback. If students take the time to write a critique, then the teacher should take the time to tell them whether their observations hit the mark, or where they could have elaborated more, or if they had a really valid argument, or if they need to work on how they express their opinion. Were there particular elements of the production Mr. Daniel was hoping they would comment on? Did they say something brilliant? He should have written something on their papers! Anything!
Second, Mr. Daniel was unprepared for class. My daughter tells me there were times when Mr. Daniel came to class and (to paraphrase her) promised them he had a lesson plan, but said they’d do that next time, and then proceeded to playing drama games (improvisations and such) or watching videos and writing critiques. When I noticed that my daughter seemed to have learned a lot about stage lighting, I asked her about it. She replied, “Ross [Mason, manager at Duane Smith Auditorium] taught us that.” I asked her about any favorite or memorable lessons. She remembers what substitute teacher Chaz Shay taught – because he has experience in technical theater.
Finally, I would like to comment on the “Final Learning Record” and how, as a parent, this makes me saddest and angriest of all. If I understand the philosophy of it, it was supposed to give students a chance to record and reflect on what they had learned and give evidence to support their grade. In theory, I think it is a great idea and I applaud the outside-the-box thinking; in practice, however, Mr. Daniel failed to give students objective criteria and feedback with which to critique themselves and measure growth. Also, he did not give them guidance on this new assessment method over the course of the semester. This was extremely stressful for my daughter, in fact, the most stressful essay of all her classes, because she had to give herself a grade with no feedback from the teacher. But the most disappointing thing for me was that Mr. Daniel did NOT even read the essays. He told them anyone who had turned in anything got an A! And to put the final exclamation point on it: he made it worth 1,000 points of their grade. All those weeks of participation were only 4 points each!

While I admire Mr. Daniel for his tenacity in sticking up for students, our experience with him as a teacher was that he was unprepared, probably unqualified to teach theater, did not give students any feedback and did not adhere to school policy about grading.