Teachers on Tape Expand Their Classrooms

Published January 1, 1998

While good teachers are difficult to find, it’s even more difficult to find an empty seat in a good teacher’s classroom. But even if you didn’t get into a SuperStar teacher’s class for high school algebra, geometry, or other subjects, you now have another option: Watch the videotape.

The Springfield, Virginia-based Teaching Company has videotaped some of the best high school teachers in America, presenting their subjects in thirty lessons of thirty minutes each.

For example, Frank Cardulla teaches chemistry in person at Niles North High School in Illinois, but he also teaches on videotape to a nationwide classroom of students. “Chemistry is the easiest class in school,” says Cardulla, the recipient of many teaching awards, including the Davidson Award for Outstanding Chemistry Teaching, the National Catalyst Award for Outstanding Chemistry Teaching, and a Presidential Award for Science Teaching.

Another SuperStar teacher, Lin Thompson of Bellflower High School in Los Angeles, appears only briefly in his two videotape history courses, World History and Early American History. For the rest of the courses, he assumes the personality, dress, and speech of a range of historical figures, including Christopher Columbus, Jean La Fitte, Patrick Henry, Jim Bowie, and mountain man Jim Colter. “He makes history come alive,” says one of his students.

Instead of teaching a specific subject area, Tim McGee of Worland High School in Worland, Wyoming, teaches what all educators emphasize but few instill: “a lifelong love of learning.” McGee’s five-and-a-half hour videotape course, called “How To Become A SuperStar Student,” tells students that studying for academics is the same thing as training for sports: when you train, you leave the competition behind. But to succeed, you first have to admit how little you know and be willing to do the work necessary to learn.

Teaching Company president Tom Rollins was introduced to videotape learning at Harvard Law School when he faced an age-old student problem: He had missed most of his classes in Evidence and the final exam was only days away. But the law school had ten hours of videotaped lectures on Evidence by Professor Irving Younger. After watching the tapes over a weekend, Rollins got an A on the final.

Later, when Rollins was chief counsel and chief of staff to the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources in 1986, he and his staff sought a way to address the shortage of qualified mathematics and science teachers in the nation’s high schools. Rollins suggested that the federal government find and tape America’s best math and science teachers so that their classroom excellence could be made available to schools everywhere.

At the time Rollins submitted his proposal, the federal government was not permitted to influence the content of public school curriculum, and his plan was not adopted. So when he left government service in 1989, he founded The Teaching Company, aimed at identifying the best teachers in the country and making them available to everyone. He first concentrated on college-level teachers, then launched the SuperStar high school teacher tapes in October 1994.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

contact The Teaching Company, 7405 Alban Station Court, Suite A107, Springfield, VA 22150-2318, 800/832-2412.