Thursday, May 29, 2008

Faculty Spotlight: Mr. McKenna


Mr. Richard McKenna wears many hats. When he's not teaching history or the AP Government class, he serves as vice chairman of the Wakefield Teachers Association, coaches varsity girls basketball, helps out down in Guidance, and spends time with the family in Danvers. Yesterday, he took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about politics in our town and across our nation, and to introduce next year's AP Government students to this challenging, but fun and fascinating course.

: What led to you teaching this course?
RM: Mr. Moscardini retired and I volunteered to teach the class because of my interest in politics. The school sent me to the AP Institute for one week in Connecticut as a refresher and an introduction to the AP Curriculum.

: How would you pitch the class to kids, encourage them to take it?
RM: It is an AP class...it is a fair amount of work. The expectation is that the students will do the work, do the readings, but at the same time will learn about the political process. That's really what the goal of the class is. To introduce kids to politics, the political system, how it works...and how to influence the process and realizing that you can have an effect on the process...
We need good people to be involved in the process - people who care - people who see the big pictures. It's not all about money, it's about helping people...
We have all those First Amendment rights - to exercise our right to free speech, utilize a blog like this one...there's a lot of venues to inform people and influence them. Other thing we do in the class - everyone's opinion is important - we need to listen to both sides even if we don't agree with them...we become empathetic, not sympathetic, in regards. By listening to each other, we acknowledge the fact that their opinion does matter, even if we don't agree with it, so the two parties leave the class respecting one another, understanding why they have that opinion.

We had a copy of the latest Spin on our table, and I showed him the article of the Étudiant's own Chris DeCarlo, whom he will have next year. As he skimmed Chris's piece, I explained his punk rock philosophy - down with the system, up with the underdog...

RM: There's nothing wrong with that, to each his own.

: Chris brings up a great point in this piece - just because a candidate is not embraced by the mainstream, that doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't support them. In the early days of Picking the President, I shed light on all the candidates - people like Mike Gravel, Ron Paul, Bill Richardson, what have you.
RM: They're legitimate candidates, and unfortunately, the media doesn't think they'll draw in viewers, so they don't extend their time in the spotlight. Any one of those candidates would make a good president or vice president. In this election, the vice presidential candidates might be more important than the presidential candidates.

: Yeah, just look at John Edwards endorsing Obama - now there's speculation that he'll be his running mate.
RM: A more moderate running mate may win over more moderate voters... He needs to have a moderate running mate to win...those swing states that have been in the balance.

: What's your prediction for the election?
RM: Well, I really am not sure. I hesitate to venture a guess because that's exactly what it will be... I believe that Barack Obama has a lot of unanswered questions which he will have to answer in the time from now to November... John McCain has to pick a running mate who will appeal to his more conservative base.

: Obama is currently considered the front-runner - do you think he's our next president?
RM: I'm not convinced right now that that's the case... If things keep going the way they are going now until November, I think that might happen. But there's a long time between now and November.

: Let's talk about the many changes coming to the school next year. You are obviously very concerned with fighting for the teachers, making sure they don't get screwed over by these budget cuts...
RM: More so concerned about the changes affecting the school climate, the classroom, the atmosphere...because every change will either directly or indirectly affect the students... The students come first and making sure that learning goes on in the classroom is the top priority.

: So, what exactly will change next year?
RM: There was a list of cuts in the paper - 12 elementary school positions, four middle school positions, 9 high school positions, as well as some custodial and clerical positions, meaning there's going to be larger class sizes across the board... The supply budget was cut by 50%. Activity fees are going up... As far as the changes go, for the school, the town doesn't have enough money, so the town has to make some changes in order to fit into the budget they've set for the town.

: Some have criticized the teachers' platform, going as far to say that teaching is a part time job that pays like a full time one. What is your response to this criticism?
RM: I think that, just like the AP class, all people have the right to voice their opinions. It's not my job to judge - we should not judge people based on their opinions. Teaching is not a part time job, I will say that. Most of the criticism that we hear...is based on incorrect information. Teachers bring work home, they do things with the students outside of school... That extra time that's put in adds up. The majority of teachers here arrive early and stay late. They don't see that, they only see our work during school hours. We have two months in the summer off and three week-long vacations, leading some to consider teaching a part-time job.

: The role that opinion plays in each AP Government class depends on the kind of people in it. Our class didn't have an Eric Engels or a Chris Morrill, a real passionate, outspoken type. But then again, opinion doesn't play a big role in the test.
RM: Basically, the class is geared to the test, even though it is not straight content all the time. I have become more familiar with the book while bringing in internet content, videos, hand-outs from other sources. A lot of exposure to a lot of different things... Even though there was not a lot of diversity of opinion in the class, there was a lot of discussion. This is an ever-changing, totally ebb-and-flow like type of science.

Again, big thanks to Mr. McKenna!

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