Monday, March 01, 2010

JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE A CHESS CHAMPION, DOESN'T MEAN YOU CAN TEACH IT, BUDDY!!

Day one of their new chess class was nothing short of amazing. The instructor was firm, but fluid. Managed to keep 25+ kids of varying age ranges and skill levels engaged and attentive. And everyone left that day feeling that they'd learned something new.


But he was the substitute.


The following week, the "real" instructor arrived.


We were not pleased. And immediately after class, I wrote a letter to the chess club (who are not affiliated with the school), and cc'd the principal of our school. Here are some of the...er...high points of that letter:

  1. We have not received any sort of outline or curriculum for this session. Teaching anything is difficult enough without a plan, but teaching chess to children without even a roadmap is just not responsible. The children, and their parents, should know what to expect to learn from week to week in order to ensure everyone is progressing adequately in the class. If this could be remedied at the next class, that would be great.

  2. Mr. Eric, although we do understand was the substitute for the first class, was an excellent instructor. He was able to maintain control in what could easily have been a very rowdy class. He was firm, but kind. He was clear in his instruction, included the children in the learning process, and laid out his intentions, expectations, and plan for the class from the get-go. As a result, the class moved quickly, but no one appeared to be left behind (even new students), the children all learned something new, and even the free play was organized, calm and productive.

  3. Today we had the permanent instructor, Mr. Morgan. Stating that today was the exact opposite of our first experience would be too kind. It was simply unbelievable, chaotic, and truly unacceptable on so many levels. Here is just a small list of my concerns stemming specifically from today's session:

  • the instructor was late -- and neither bothered to apologize to the children for this disrespectful happenstance, nor I'm certain does he intend to refund all of the parents for the time he was not in class
  • the instructor clearly had not discussed with Mr. Eric what happened at the last session, and after a very slow start, decided to start at the very beginning with what the pieces are called simply because one (out of 20+) students indicated that she had not played chess before. For the next 20 minutes straight, he proceeded to speak to the board with his back to the class as he randomly moved pieces here and there, jumping absent-mindedly from topic to topic, never once turning to check in with the children nor realizing that not a one of them, including the child to whom he was apparently speaking, were even listening
  • when he finally decided to pull out the chess boards, they were all wet and smelled moldy. He indicated that they had gotten rained on and to try to "just ignore the mildew smell." I certainly hope none of the children were allergic to mold
  • the room was chaotic and uncontrolled -- the children were loud and unruly -- and the instructor made no efforts to calm or organize the situation at any point during the entire session
  • once the children began to sit at the game boards, there was no attempt to pair them up according to ability or basic skill level -- despite the parent volunteer expressly explaining to the instructor that a child who had never even played chess before was matched up against a child who had clearly been playing for a while. The young girl was frustrated and being picked on by the boys at her table, and complained of a headache for being rushed and pushed by her opponent to make moves she had not even learned yet. Why he didn't divide the class into novice and intermediate from the beginning is still beyond me.
  • the instructor then proceeded to spend the remaining time walking around drinking what I can only presume was coffee out of his thermos as he casually glanced and sometimes interjected his comments into the children's games, which is PERHAPS a good approach for the more advanced children, but in no way helpful for those who are still learning the basics.
  • many children complained of the gentleman's extremely unpleasant body odor, and I myself had difficulty speaking to him because of it.
  • because there was no goal for the day, no lesson to learn, no actual information imparted, the children walked away empty-handed and frustrated. I could have easily done that for them at home.
Extra-curricular classes such as this are typically selected by parents because they want to enhance their child's existing academic/social experience. And particularly with the economy in the state that it is, one would think that there would be a greater empathy for the fact that every single penny counts. These classes are not inexpensive. The expectation is that they are actually teaching what they claim to be teaching, and not just glorified babysitters. And while I understand that this instructor is some sort of chess champion (because he mentioned it at least 3 times during class), that means very little to me if he can't teach -- because that is what I'm paying for.

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ANYWAY...I'm very pleased to report that their response was swift and effective. I heard from them the very next day. They thanked me for detailing our experience so thoroughly (although I'm certain they were cursing me under their breath the entire time), which allowed them to deal with a situation it sounded like they were ready and just waiting to deal with already. They assured us that the substitute would become our permanent instructor beginning with the very next class and that they would divide the class by skill level, so that Mr. Morgan, the other one, would only supervise the most advanced children in an entirely separate classroom.


Since then, the kids have been flourishing. Saia, in fact, will be competing in her first chess tournament this coming Saturday. And, hopefully, a few of those parents who've been wasting their hard-earned money on a dog-and-pony show are now seeing some real results, too.


[Man, I really need to get back to work.]

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2 comments:

sonia said...

Bravo!

tracer123 said...

Smelly man gone, non-smelly man back - result!