Despite retiring after a 38 year teaching career, Jeff Gaynor is staying involved in Ann Arbor schools. Now instead of leading in the classroom, he brings his ideas and enthusiasm to the Ann Arbor Board of Education. Elected last November, Gaynor hopes that his teaching experience can lead to positive changes.
Teaching students to think critically
Gaynor says, “I always taught my students to think for themselves. I wanted them to engage in dialogue and reflection. That’s what people seem to want more of from the school board. It’s healthy to have discussions and question each other at public meetings.”
From an early age Gaynor thought critically about the world around him. A political philosophy major, he dropped out of the University of Michigan during the Vietnam War to resist the draft (though having double vision eventually precluded him from being inducted in the end). After a few years away, he circled back to the University of Michigan, this time in the School of Education. While he knew he had the skills to work with computers he challenged himself by choosing to teach.
Gaynor, himself a parent of two daughters who attended Ann Arbor Public Schools, credits his father for instilling in him critical thinking skills, and his stepmother, a first grade teacher in Detroit, for validating his career choice.
“I liked taking risks in the classroom. Teaching was something new for me. At any point in my career if I thought I had it all down, I’d leave,” says Gaynor.
Ideas about standardized testing
Trying new things and taking risks might explain Gaynor’s run for school board. Encouraged by friends to run, he campaigned for more openness and transparency at board meetings and less standardized testing for students. According to Gaynor, in the last five to ten years teachers have been pushed to teach too much material too fast and too soon. They are then expected to jump directly into testing in order to produce data.
“It’s not usually the answer that’s important, but how you get there,” says Gaynor. “Kids are memorizing and they don’t have the time to process the information or ask why. I have told the superintendent sometimes the best intentions of the administration don’t always result in what’s best for the kids.”
Gaynor understands testing is a complex issue that needs to balance government requirements and the need for accountability with the best interest of each student. But because teachers are pressured to produce high scores or risk a poor evaluation the focus on data distracts from deep teaching and learning.
For Gaynor, the school board is a place for critical thinking too. Though he sees some inertia in response to proposed change, he thinks the new board is starting to reach out and listen better to parents and teachers. Now it’s his turn to represent the district and engage with the school board.