A Tree Grows in
David Kiefer conducts his class like an orchestra. Taut, controlled, his burly shoulders rising in an agony of anticipation, he squeezes information from his students as if he were drawing a poignant adagio from a violin section. If a response is slightly off-key, his face seems anguished. There is a sense that any graver error might unravel him. But when a student hits just the right note, just the right sharpness of phrasing, he smiles and lets out an exhalation of deep relief.
Kiefer is a master teacher and his relish in his craft is almost palpable. He came to love his work during a three-year stint in the Peace Corps teaching math to Kenyan children, and the satisfaction was so great that he relinquished a budding career as a chemical engineer so he could teach in the New York City public school system.
"I enjoy the skills of putting things as simply and as systematically as possible," he says. "No matter what it is in my life, I enjoy communicating to people in a simple and systematic way."
Kiefer has now been a teacher for almost a quarter century, and the course he is now teaching is among the most gratifying of his career. He teaches a ninth-grade class in research. Not biology, not chemistry, but research. His high school, Midwood High School in Brooklyn, New York, is one of a small but growing number of schools around the country that have been focusing many of their traditional science courses on laboratory techniques. Midwood, however, is distinctive even in this rarefied world for offering