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Five Questions For … Brian Lenze

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(Interview conducted and edited by Emily Richmond)

Brian Lenze is starting his fifth year teaching high school biology–including honors and Advanced Placement classes–at Coronado High School in Henderson, Nev. Because 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years, this year represents a crucial milestone for Lenze and the Clark County School District where he works. A native of southeastern Michigan, Lenze taught for two years at a private school near Detroit and for a year at a charter school in Florida. 

1.How has your outlook on your profession changed in four years – have your goals been reshaped as a result of actually doing the job day in and day out?

The biggest change in my outlook towards my profession is the realization that not everyone values education or teachers as much as I expected in the beginning.  I love the parent support I have received; I just wish it was more widespread throughout the district. My goals have changed as well. When I first began teaching, I thought I would eventually become an administrator.  Now that I have been in the classroom, I can’t imagine anything I would enjoy more.

2. Have you noticed any shift in the worries and concerns expressed by your students as a result of the economic crisis?

This past year many of my seniors talked about getting out of Vegas and not coming back.  They are worried that there won’t be many options for jobs for them to use their college education.

It’s kind of a Catch 22 for me. I want to encourage them to not give-up on Vegas, but–as I’m  transplant myself–I understand the need to move to an area where you can put your education into practice. I try to convince them to keep an open mind about returning because they may not yet realize what the valley does have to offer.  I am worried that this region is losing its best and brightest.

3. There is a huge push by districts nationwide to get as many students as possible enrolled in as many Advanced Placement classes as possible, even though the pass rate on the exams hasn’t kept pace. Would you rather see fewer kids get more attention and possibly have a better shot at passing the exam?

I do agree with the push, as long as we are encouraging the students to reach their full potential.  Although, we have to be careful not to push too hard that we place students that can’t handle the rigorous course work into a position that sets them up to fail.

I’ve been lucky: Coronado has supported keeping the AP class sizes smaller than many other campuses. At the beginning of last year, I had 40 AP students and we split the class into one group of 17 and one of 23. My honors classes average right around 38.

4. Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones, who was hired last fall, wants to add an evaluation model that would potentially label some teachers as “ineffective.” Where do you stand on merit pay?

I am all for revamping the evaluation process.  I do worry about potentially being labeled as “ineffective,” and I would just hope that there would be an appeals process to limit bias from the evaluator.  As for merit pay, it doesn’t work.  I don’t see merit pay improving our situation here in Las Vegas.

5. Looking back to your “first” day of school as a teacher, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?

The top three things I would tell myself would be get–and stay–organized, be consistent throughout the year, and remember to have fun. This is the best job in the world.