Beware of Teachers Who Mesmerize

hypnosisFlatflower, NY—In a closed meeting on Saturday morning, District Superintendent Clautha Binhorn warned principals about teachers who  mesmerized not only their own students, but their evaluators. “There are more of them than you think,” she said, “and for that reason I urge you to keep your classroom observations short and to the point. Don’t get caught up in pre-observation conferences and that sort of thing, because that’s where the trickery festers.”

According to recent studies, teachers who met with principals before the observation received significantly higher ratings than those who did not. “This shows that the teachers put you under a spell,” said Binhorn. “They show you their lesson plan and start to explain it in sweet tones. They sound like they know what they’re talking about. Before you know it, you’ve been hoodwinked. You think you’re about to see a good lesson. Then, when you enter the classroom, you’re still possessed.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Reginald Stark, principal of Flatflower’s distinguished High School for Learning. “I’ve seen some lesson plans that raised questions in my mind. I’ve even seen a few that struck me as quite bad.”

“And then what did you do?” probed Binhorn. “I bet you gave the teacher a chance to improve, right? That’s all part of the trick. She comes to you with a better lesson plan, and you say, ‘wow, that’s much better.’ That’s where the trance begins.”

Binhorn then played a video of a mesmerized principal who watches a chaotic lesson (with chairs flying) and then walks dreamily to her office to type up a glowing evaluation and a rating of “highly effective.” “You see!” declared Binhorn proudly. “She isn’t in her right mind.” The next part of the video showed a flashback of the pre-observation conference, with the teacher saying, over and over, “this is a high-level geometry lesson, this is a high-level geometry lesson.”

“Who’s the principal in that video?” asked one of the participants.

“Oh, we hired someone for the film. We decided not to put a real principal on the spot. It might not go over too well with her staff. But you see the point, don’t you? We must not tolerate such conniving.”

Asked what could be done about these trance-inducing teachers, Binhorn started up her “action plan” slideshow. “The ideal solution,” she began, “would be simply to get rid of all teachers. Wouldn’t that be a dream! Then student achievement would finally rise to its natural heights. But that isn’t going to happen overnight. What we can do, though, is sharpen our own end of the proverbial pencil. Let them know we’re on to them. Short, snappy observations. Quick ratings. No explanations. No compromise. Ineffective, ineffective, ineffective!” Binhorn seemed on the brink of ecstatic abandon.

“And then what?”

“Well, we get rid of them one by one, until only the super-teachers remain. There’ll be a few of those. They won’t last long, though. They’ll find an easier job somewhere. Look at me! I’m not a teacher, and let me tell you, I wouldn’t be one today.”

“This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me…” began Ellen Kedem, a principal known for her gentleness and wisdom (a word hardly spoken in Flatflower).

“It doesn’t have to make sense. Just look at the action plan and repeat after me. The first step is to remove your blinders! Get out your binders!”

“Remove your blinders! Get out your binders!” some of the principals chanted. Others stayed silent.

“The next step is to see things for what they are! Stop wishing upon a star!”

The same few principals chanted in response.

“The next step is to give reality a rating! Without waiting, without waiting!”

“Give reality a rating!” they shrieked.

“And now, all together, what is that rating? What rating has reality earned?”

“Ineffective! Ineffective! Ineffective!” Here the chorus grew, with some facetious tones mixed in.

Binhorn displayed her last slide. “There you have it,” she said, nodding approvingly at her disciples. “This is what we call the science of management. It doesn’t go for rhetoric. It sticks with the data. It assigns a number to that data, and translates that number into a word, which, as you said, is ‘ineffective,’ more often than not.”

“And here I was thinking I had seen some good lessons this year,” sighed a principal.

“The important thing,” replied Binhorn, “is that you have now rejected that illusion. You will leave this room immune to spells, trances, and other tricks. But before you leave, I have one more chant for us to say together.”

Gathering up their things, the principals waited for her next word.

“We’re here for success, not deceitfulness! Woot woot woot!”

A few principals mumbled the words grudgingly.

“No, for this activity, we’re going to use the Everybody Does It rule. Everybody now. This is your exit slip.”

The room chanted in unison. Upon leaving, each principal received a teddy bear and a copy of the rubric. The superintendent rated the session “highly effective”; after all, it had resulted in a universal chant.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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