Ode to a Middle School Teacher

Gordon Clem died last week. According to his obituary

“He started a long and successful career at St. Thomas Choir School in New York City following college; first, as athletic coach, a math and science instructor, and eventually serving as Headmaster for many years. While at St. Thomas he organized an annual Training Workshop for math and science teachers from the U.S. and abroad, which has been held at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, MA for the last 50 years. He also helped to organize similar workshops throughout the US and abroad.”

Gordon was a model and mentor to many. Our paths crossed in the late 1990’s when he consulted with Friends Academy (MA) about elementary and middle school mathematics curriculum and pedagogy. My conversations with Gordon sent home for me the critical importance of a high level of mathematics comfort and proficiency in our middle school math teachers. He shook his head at the archaic generalist model (in which I was credentialed in the 1970’s) of certifying teachers to address all subjects, K-8. And, I had the definite impression that he identified as a middle school math teacher himself.

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Gordon Clem and Nikki Li Hartliep on the occasion of his 80th birthday

Middle school teachers need subject-area expertise, love for the quirkiness of emerging adolescence, flexibility, patience, and sense of humor — not a small bill to fill. In honor of Gordon, I offer applause for middle school teachers everywhere and this article by Launa Schweizer, who captures beautifully the nature of their work: 

          “My Amygdala Ate My Homework!” Rewire Me, 9/06/13.

Thanks to Dane Peters for calling the article to my attention and to Murray Lopdell-Lawrence for the photo – both fellows also touched by Gordon’s quiet wisdom. 

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