Lanagan on window
Would this beloved uncommon teacher be determined as “effective” in the current common core educational environment?


Regardless of the pro Common Core spin, teachers under Common Core will be teaching similar curriculum across the nation.  Stories abound on the Internet from teachers writing about how they have been told what and how to teach.  If they do not, their evaluations will suffer and they will soon be unemployed.

A former beloved area teacher recently died and was remembered by a local paper.  She was renowned for a “500 word list” which students had to use in sentences (and memorize their definitions).  The article recounts how the assignment motivated students:

 lanagan photo 1 rotatedFrom Here’s To You, Mrs. Lanagan … in the Webster-Kirkwood Times

Mrs. Lanagan apparently never needed a common set of standards to be a great teacher and to inspire her students.  Imagine if in the current educational reform (common standards, common assessments, common curriculum) a teacher tried to use his/her own 500 word list for students to use in an assignment.  He/she probably wouldn’t be designated as “effective” since he/she is not following the rubrics for how and what to teach students.

Here is the above referenced video with Taylor’s remembrances about Mrs. Lonagan.  Taylor came across a tribute about film critic Roger Ebert from A.O. Scott in the NY Times with a sentence that reminded her of her teacher:

Social media, another neologism and, too often, an oxymoron, was for him a tautology.


It is a fitting tribute to a teacher who was remembered as a great teacher….even as she threw an eraser at a sleeping student. For more tributes to an effective teacher who didn’t need a set of common standards, common curriculum, common professional development, common assessments and common evaluations, read here:

There were two things that immediately ignited my fascination with Mrs. L when I encountered her in 10th grade. The first was her fearsome reputation and vivid personality. She was by far the most interesting, high profile teacher on the WGHS faculty. The second was the tragic background that brought her to Webster Groves. I became aware of both at about the same time.
Yes, there were the tight skirts, spike heels (I remember her in a rage one day when she broke off a heel coming up the stairs), and blonde hair. But there was also the performance art of her teaching. She would declaim lines of Shakespeare with real thespian fervor. Or she would deconstruct in the most precisely and elegantly chosen language the meaning of the term “brown nose” and why it should not/would not be allowed in the school newspaper. She was riveting and unforgettable in the classroom.
The tragic background was the death of her husband and middle son in an automobile accident in 1952. She was only 31. She had been staying in St. Louis seeking medical attention for her youngest child, Kevin, when she got the news. She decided to stay, enrolling her oldest son, Mike, in Holy Redeemer elementary school that same winter. Mike related to me recently that she went to see WGHS principal Howard Latta within days of the accident and announced that she was the best English teacher he would ever have and that he should hire her. He did. With little in the way of a local support network, she took charge of her life and her sons’ lives. Kevin told me that he had found among her files “a snippet of paper on which she had written: ‘Assume control, though you have it not.’” That ferocious self-reliance, that incredible courage were enormously inspiring. And although there were cracks in the façade, always some maladaptive coping mechanisms, that strength, that force of will and her profound religious faith carried her through to the end of her life. She was challenging, brilliant, infuriating, mercurial, hilarious, eloquent, and outrageous. And I loved her.


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