Thursday, December 22, 2016

How Effective Was Mr. Turner's Teaching?

Who's the coolest fictional teacher ever? Is it Jack Black's Dewey Finn, with his devil-may care attitude and his rock-n'-roll? Or maybe it's Ms. Frizzle, who takes her students on some fantastic field trips aboard the Magic School Bus. Some people -- probably those who've actually seen the movie -- might even argue for Cameron Diaz or Jason Segel in Bad Teacher.

To me, though, the answer is easy: Jonathan Turner. Mr. Turner wore many hats on Boy Meets World during his three seasons on the show. He was a wisecracking subordinate to George Feeny, a mentor to Shawn Hunter, and a bedfellow to dozens of hot women. Most of all, though, he was the coolest teacher ever.

When I ranked the best Boy Meets World characters a few years ago, Mr. Turner landed in third place, behind only stalwarts Shawn Hunter and Eric Matthews.

But was Mr. Turner a good teacher? It's debatable. Here are a few pros: he excelled at teaching life lessons; he often stood up to Mr. Feeny and the four-foot stick up the principal's ass; and he allowed Shawn to move in with him. But let's also consider some cons: he only ever talked to three students; he bounced from topic to topic like a goldfish with ADHD; and HE ALLOWED SHAWN TO MOVE IN WITH HIM (!!!!).


In recent years, many American school districts have adopted teacher rating systems. At a basic level, rating systems are an attempt to hold teachers accountable. From a more cynical perspective, it's an attempt to quantify an unquantifiable profession in the name of politics. Just like most of the other stuff in the press the last few years, it's real fun stuff.

Anyways, most New York districts use a tool called the Danielson Framework for Teaching to rate teachers. New York City, where yours truly plies his trade, has narrowed teacher evaluation down to eight components: Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy; Designing Coherent Instruction; Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport; Managing Student Behavior; Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques; Engaging Students in Learning; Using Assessment in Instruction; and Growing and Developing Professionally. You know, because those are the only eight things a teacher does. And because, you know, all eight of those things can be rated on a simple 1-4 scale. But enough politics; back to Mr. Turner.

Since a teacher's rating is usually determined by a few "random" pop-in observations by an administrator, it's only "fair" to evaluate Mr. Turner's teaching the same way. So how would the leather jacket-clad pedagogue fare in the eight major categories listed above? Let's drop by his classroom at John Adams High and see...

Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy 
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
An administrator must assign one of four ratings to a teacher for each component: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, or Ineffective. For this first component, based primarily on his knowledge of English literature, Mr. Turner rates as a solid Effective.

What's the evidence?
Mr. Turner definitely acquired a wealth of literature content knowledge in his WASPy upbringing in a rich New England home. The Danielson Framework for Teaching provides an example for this indicator: The teacher plans to expand a unit on civics by having students simulate a court trial. During Season 2 of BMW, Mr. Turner similarly built on a Much Ado About Nothing lesson by having students film videos about modern definitions of love and sex. As a bonus, that led to an awkward exchange between the teacher and Cory:

Designing Coherent Instruction 
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
Here, like many new teachers thrown into the cauldron of education, Mr. Turner was clearly Ineffective.

What's the evidence?
According to Danielson, coherent instruction includes "thoughtfully planned learning groups" and "structured lesson plans." As far as I can tell, in all the lessons Mr. Turner ever taught, he never met either of those criteria. During one of our visits to his classroom, he simply read student poems -- including Shawn's masterpiece "Welfare" -- aloud without previewing them. Mr. Turner clearly didn't put any time into planning that lesson.

He taught Homer one day, Steinbeck the next, and Shakespeare a few weeks after that. Even the incredibly intelligent Topanga probably still thinks those three writers were contemporaries. She can blame Mr. Turner for that.

Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
As is true for most teachers, Mr. Turner displayed both positive and negative practices in his interactions with students. Overall, his inconsistency would place him somewhere between the Developing and Effective ratings for this category.

What's the evidence?
On the one hand, Mr. Turner generally had a good relationship with his students. He often imparted life lessons and showed an appreciation of his students as real human beings.

On the other hand, students often teased their classmates in his room. According to Danielson, "how students are treated by their classmates is arguably even more important" than how the teacher behaves. (Although, in fairness to Turner, the hard-lining Mr. Feeny would've rated even worse in this category as he repeatedly allowed other students to bully Minkus.) Also, there's little evidence of Mr. Turner's rapport with anyone other than his three favorite students.

On the third hand, his positive effect effect on Shawn Hunter is undeniable and earns him the benefit of the doubt and an Effective rating for this component.

Managing Student Behavior
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
This category is inextricably related to the previous component regarding respect and rapport. Again, the bulk of Mr. Turner's actions would garner him a Developing rating for this component. While several of his students obviously adored him, he just didn't have great classroom management.

What's the evidence?
Mr. Turner's lessons often devolved into chaos, like when Cory convinced his classmates to march out of the room and go on "strike" in protest of a test. In fact, there was a disturbing trend of various students getting up and walking out of Mr. Turner's room because they were upset. You can't allow that, Turner. The teacher also frequently allowed Cory and Shawn to drive class discussion off-topic with random pop culture tangents.

With that being said, Mr. Turner did have a system -- albeit an inconsistent one -- for consequences in his classroom. He sometimes gave detention, and he usually had a quick response to students who acted out. For that reason, he avoids an Ineffective here.

Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
The ideal classroom for this category includes "Questions of high quality [that] cause students to think and reflect, to deepen their understanding, and to test their ideas against those of their classmates." Mr. Turner garners an Effective rating here.

What's the evidence?
In his first class, Mr. Turner assigned Cory to lead the next day's discussion comparing X-Men and The Odyssey. While he hadn't actually taught Cory how to facilitate discussion, it's impressive that he put the onus on the student from the get-go. He also asked many open-ended questions that required his students to explore real-life problems.

Engaging Students in Learning
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
Students often problem-solved and explained their thinking at John Adams High. Mr. Turner, especially, was Effective in this area. (Come to think of it, did we ever see a lesson at that school that wasn't taught by either Feeny or Turner?)

What's the evidence?
According to Danielson, "No one, whether an adult or a student, likes to be either bored or rushed in completing a task. Keeping things moving, within a well-defined structure, is one of the marks of an experienced teacher. And since much of student learning results from their reflection on what they have done, a well-designed lesson includes time for reflection and closure." Even though Shawn often fell asleep and Cory sometimes failed to listen to the teacher, Mr. Turner usually kept things lively in his class. In a classroom snapshot, you might see him assign a hands-on project about love in modern society, facilitate a spirited debate about workers' rights, or listen to his students' strong opinions about social issues.

Above all, though, Mr. Turner made the kids care. Man, I wish my students were able to relate everything in their life back to our class's content like Cory, Topanga, and Shawn so often do. What I wouldn't give to have my students make connections between their own relationships and Shakespeare's plays. I guess that's one of the benefits of being a teacher on a scripted TV show.

Using Assessment in Instruction
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
For his demonstrable ability to seize on "teachable moments," Mr. Turner was Effective in this important component of teaching.

What's the evidence?
Sure, he might not have found time to grade many papers outside of school (we're getting there in a minute), but Mr. Turner was a master of steering the class conversation toward real-life learning. He also showed a forward-thinking attitude toward traditional testing.

Mr. Turner constantly assessed his students -- well, Cory, Topanga, and Shawn at least -- to determine their real-life needs. He usually figured out creative ways to assess them and adjust his teaching accordingly.

Growing and Developing Professionally
How should we rate Mr. Turner?
For his unwillingness to grow as a professional outside the classroom, Mr. Turner nets an Ineffective here.

What's the evidence?
This category requires a teacher to display "high ethical standards and a deep sense of professionalism." Between allowing Shawn to move in with him (again, ALLOWING SHAWN TO MOVE IN WITH HIM) and allowing the rest of the BMW gang in on his personal business, Mr. Turner had little time for professionalism. He definitely never attended a voluntary professional development session.

Turner didn't have time to worry about this rating, though. He was out getting chicks instead. He'd definitely rate Highly Effective if there was a Pulling Tail component to the Danielson rubric, but alas...


So now let's get back to our original question: Was Mr. Turner a good teacher?

According to the eight components we've highlighted from the Danielson Framework, Mr. Turner rates as Effective in five, Developing in one and Ineffective in two. He doesn't earn a Highly Effective mark in any component, but it's really hard for any teacher to reach that rarefied air.

But just like it's a little unfair to judge old athletes by modern-day statistics*, we shouldn't judge Mr. Turner based on a new-age teacher rating system. His creativity and willingness to make learning applicable to students' lives made him an undeniably good teacher.

*And modern-day hairstyles. Mr. Turner's mullet hasn't aged well, but it compared favorably to Mario Lemieux's during the '90s.

And Mr. Turner has clearly grown significantly as an educator since his time as a new teacher during the '90s. On the spin-off Girl Meets World, he's really come into his own. I haven't watched more than a few episodes, but Mr. Turner is now the superintendent of the New York City Board of Ed. Not bad for a guy whose last known activity included a possibly-fatal motorcycle accident. So apparently Turner has been moving up the ladder in the education game in between his romantic trysts. And good for him. Every teacher should care so much.

One of my biggest gripes with the way the Danielson Rubric has been used is when people claim it's totally objective despite the obvious room it leaves for subjectivity. For instance, how does an administrator decide which snapshots to focus on when determining a rating? Do "random" snapshots really give a full picture of a teacher's impact?

With those questions in mind, how did I do with rating Mr. Turner? Would you have given him higher or lower marks in any of the teaching components? Which evidence did I omit? And, perhaps most importantly, should he get extra credit for the mullet, leather, and ladies?

If you want to subscribe to How Blank, just type in your email address on the right side of the page. You'll get a notification every time we post new content.

Follow Francis Tolan on Twitter @frantweet


  1. I may have given him a higher rating for Engaging Students in Learning- or am I too biased based on the level of enthusiasm those students had vs my own classroom?

    1. I think I mostly penalized him for his inability to engage anyone not named Cory, Topanga, or Shawn. If you watch most of those clips, the other kids in the class are sitting in rows, bored as hell, pretty much rolling their eyes at the favoritism Mr. Turner shows.
      But yes, Cory, Topanga, and Shawn are often way more engaged than 99% of your (or my) students.

  2. I'd personally have a problem with his seating chart as Topanga , Cory, and Shawn all sit in front or behind each other. Shawn def has an IEP stemming from his highly alcoholic father so I'm wondering where Turner's co teacher is and why he's sitting in the back of the classroom or maybe he needs a para and is a complete distraction to the class so he should possibly be isolated in a corner. His relationships with his students seem highly inappropriate discussing sex with underage students , but the no test scenes is engaging as he wants his kids to learn a life lesson based upon classroom curriculum . However I'm unsure of where he would be getting his student data from if he frequently forgoes tests. Furthermore his impact on students with a connection to a troublemaker like Shawn Hunter is off the charts the guy opened his home (even though he completely did not follow protocol) for a troubled youth and taught him life lessons which he may have done again in his teaching career after his near fatal motorcycle accident as he did the one thing that all teachers need to do is Inspire students which he clearly did even if it was only 3 of them .


    1. Haha, Shawn definitely has Other Health Impairment (aka ADHD). Turner certainly has never gone to a bullshit data meeting in his life, so he wins there. Loved the stream-of-consciousness rant, as always.

  3. I too biased based on the level of enthusiasm those students had vs my own classroom?

    GCLUB มือถือ