“A teacher evaluation program can get rid of the teachers who are allowed to stay because of sonority.”

Well, teacher evaluation is here revealed for its real purpose: getting rid of teachers.

My student knows which ones should go: those who are allowed to stay because they are “1. producing sound (as when struck); 2. full or loud in sound; 3. imposing or impressive in effect or style.” (Thank you, Mr. Webster, for your New Collegiate Dictionary, 1973.)

I’m not sure whether these teachers have been allowed to stay because they’re sonorous, or are being gotten rid of because they’re sonorous: the sentence isn’t fully clear on that point. And it’s an important distinction—I want to know if the next time something or someone gives me a clout on the head, I dare cry out.

Presumably she means that these teachers have previously been kept on the faculty because of their sonority. But why wouldn’t that be a good argument for keeping them into the future? After all, we need teachers who produce sound (especially if the ideas they give voice to are also sound, forgive the pun…); and if that sound is full, loud, and impressive in style, wouldn’t that make the lessons all the more memorable?

Students must not like teachers who disrupt their naps and phone calls with loud and imposing noise, because my writer is confident such teachers would get the bad end of the evaluation stick. (Perhaps they’d be struck by it, and yell “OUCH!” or “Oh NO-O-O-o-o-o-…” as they hurtled through the air and off the campus.)

Speech that’s “impressive in style” is part of a now-outmoded image of professors, gone with the showpiece lecture that even students not enrolled in the class would crowd in to hear (at my college in my day, Professor Schiffman on Moby-Dick was one such attraction), gone with the notion that the professor’s “opinion” is somehow more credible than the sophomore’s, gone with the “gentleman’s C”—well, gone with a lot of things of value and some things best gone.

So in with Evaluation, out with sonority!

Yes, I knew she meant “seniority.” Maybe Autocorrect was to blame. Or maybe she doesn’t know the difference between seniority and sonority.

I happen to think that seniority is also often a pretty damned good reason for retaining a teacher. When senior faculty go, institutional memory also goes. Most students are on campus for four or five years; nowadays, the same is true of many an administrator. Why things are as they are, how they got that way, what mistakes have already been made and don’t need repeating, what good ideas might be tried again, how the “mission” has changed: these kinds of information generally don’t wind up published for all to read, but remain instead in the consciousness of those who have had the experiences; and these kinds of information—the past—can be very important as an institution considers its present and plans its future. The value of a seasoned member of the community isn’t limited to academe; the same can be said for most enterprises.

My student probably meant “ONLY because of sonority,” only because they had been on the faculty a long time (or only because they were loud).

Perhaps she imagined that seniority can bring senility with it, and a school certainly doesn’t want a senile faculty. But I see no “only” in her sentence. Does she want teachers booted out as soon as they turn fifty? Or forty? Or when they become “senior citizens”? Hard to say. I’m not sure she knows. She certainly doesn’t say.

In fact, she doesn’t say “seniority,” either. So: teachers, keep your voices down! Try not to be too impressive! And if someone or something comes along and strikes you, don’t you make a sound. Limit your sonority and you may achieve seniority some day.

 

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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