I just received my package of four new books (well, new to me) ordered from Amazon–three of the books I stumbled upon on various and sundry blog sites. The other popped up in Amazon’s recommendations. It is a topic that I have been struggling with, so I figured, what the hey.
1. See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers by Roxana Elden [Front cover blurb by Dave Barry (yes, that Dave Barry): “You know how you’ve always thought that if you were a teacher you’d go insane? Well, this very funny book proves that you definitely would. But in a good way.”]
I found out about this book on Mr. Teachbad’s Blog of Teacher Disgruntlement, one very funny, but often shocking blog by, for, of, with, and because of teachers. A place where they really let their hair down. Good for the heart and soul because no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, there is always someone out there with a more outrageous principal or colleague or assignment or school district or ____ (you fill in the blank). A bit raw and wild for the tender-hearted or easily offended. You have been warned.
Anyway, this book was mentioned one day a few weeks ago, and it turns out that Ms. Elden is a frequent contributor/respondent to the Teachbad blog. I knew that I would appreciate this writer when I turned to page three and saw the heading: “This Book Is Not Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul. It’s more like Hard Liquor for the Teacher’s Soul.” Bingo!
2. It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade by Mrs. Mimi [Blurb on back cover says: “If I could, I would scream, ‘I am a teacher!’ proudly from the highest mountain, but high heels do not lend themselves to intense hikes.”] I, too, am proud to be a teacher. However, I never wear high heels. Never.
The book is based on Mrs. Mimi’s popular blog, It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages. The blog is funny, so I knew that the book would be funny. Mrs. Mimi (Is that her real name?; first name?; last name?) teaches second grade in Harlem. Turns out that Mimi is really one, Jennifer Scoggin. She is funny: cynical, sarcastic, ironic–a few of the more contemporary characteristics which I value and admire. She immediately got my attention with the chapter titled, “Holy Crap, It’s August!”, as well as her commentary on one of the several inane but common responses we teachers get when we are forced to disclose what we do for a living.
Reaction #2: “If I could spend some time volunteering, I would definitely work with children like you do.” Mrs. Mimi: “Ummmm, moron, teachers get paid because they work insanely hard. But that’s cool, I know you’re really online shopping all day in your air-conditioned cubicle and are just feeling incredibly unfulfilled and worthless. Just try not to take it out on teachers next time, okay?”
3. Kids, Classrooms, and Capitol Hill: A Peek Inside the Walls of America’s Public Schools by Kelly Flynn [Back cover blurb by J. Prescott, Wesley College, Delaware caught my eye. ( I live and work in Delaware.) “Teachers have always wanted someone to tell the world how things really work within the education field. This is a wish come true! This book discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly about the education system today. It will educate parents and administrators, reinvigorate veteran teachers, inspire those seeking to get into education, and scare off those who really don’t belong in education to begin with!”
Hmmm,… I am always skeptical of things that will “invigorate veteran teachers,” as if we all needed a boost–some pedagogical Geritol. Do people recommend the reinvigoration of bankers, lawyers, doctors, or Indian chiefs? Does the public suspect that other professionals over forty have lost their way, lost their pep, lost their desire and ability to put in a good day’s work? Cheesh!
“Kelly Flynn is a freelance newspaper columnist for The Flint Journal in Michigan, covering all aspects of education.” Kelly Flynn also taught high school English from 1989 to 2002, so she definitely has her classroom creds. I hope that the book is actually as good as J. Prescott makes it out to be. If I can figure out which blog site I was on when I came across this book, I shall add it later.
4. Motivating Students Who Don’t Care by Allen N. Mendler is a skinny little book of 65 pages with relatively larger print–an easy read. Back cover blurb: “I highly recommend this book. It addresses the underlying emotional needs of students amd offers practical solutions for addressing the underlying causes of underachievement.” So says Charles Fay, School Psychologist and VP of The Love and Logic Institute, Inc., Golden, Colorado. [I imagine that there are probably synonyms somewhere for the terms addressing and underlying, but maybe Mr. Fay and the editors were really busy that day. I am so mean, but I hate overuse and redundancy.]
Lord knows that in my own experience, too many students in the past three years do exhibit emotional needs that appear to impact their success in school, leading to year after year of underachievement. If this book actually has some ideas that make sense and work in a classroom then it will be a revelation to me and my middle school colleagues. There has got to be some remedy for my inability to connect with and therefore instruct about 5-7% of my 145 assigned students. You do the math!
We are plagued by what I have begun to call “the loathe to learn.” We have gone way beyond the classic ‘reluctant learner’ to the new resistant learners, students who seem actively engaged in defying the teaching and learning cycle. Picture a 12-year old with arms tightly crossed against her chest, leaning back in her chair, head tossed back, sneer on her lip, eyes rolling because you asked for the fourth time in the past 20 seconds that she open her book to page 37. The accompanying sound effect would be one of three things: loud sucking of teeth (a sound few adults can replicate), or a deep-throated sigh of sighs, or the latest iteration of institutional disgust, “Oh, my Gawd,” spoken loudly enough for all nearby to hear.
My experienced, skilled, knowledgable, dedicated, motivated, capable teaching teammates and I are confounded as to how to deal with this behavior. I teach science; there is also a reading, English, math, and social studies teacher on the team. We work in a rather traditional, academically focused middle school. We work well together and we are willing to work hard. Maybe Mr. Mendler’s little book will have some valid suggestions for bringing some of these students around.
I am looking forward to the opportunity to do some summer reading. It is a luxury I do not often afford myself during the school year. I will let you know what I think. More later.