Have you ever read any of Frank McCourt’s other books? “Angela’s Ashes” and “‘Tis” are amazing in their own right. His childhood in Ireland and first years in New York are ridiculous and so well written. He proves that the Irish’s flair for story-telling is something to be admired and enjoyed.
But this book was something different, and I think it should be required reading for every teacher out there. I remember during a class last year that we had to read a book related to some aspect of education, and my classmate Kevin read this book and spoke highly of it. (Kevin’s family is just as into their Irish heritage as mine). I filed it away under the hundreds of books that I would read whenever school was finally over and I had more than 5 minutes to read books that weren’t required reading.
I began reading it a few months ago (but can’t remember how or where I got the book!). When I got called in for my first day back subbing at the middle school on Wednesday, I found out that I had a few hours off in the morning due to SBAC testing, so I asked the library for a book recommendation that I could take out. They had this in their back, and I’m so happy they did.
Ever read a book that you absolutely needed, at that time in your life? This was one of those for me.
Although I could speak for hours about his writing style (which is just so wonderful – down to earth, little bite-size pieces of vignettes that aren’t very powerful until you think about their impact), I’d rather highlight just exactly what it is that I took away from it (and very much needed):
Nobody has all the answers.
When he writes about himself in the classroom – the constant questioning of his teaching ability, the comparing himself to other teachers, the knowledge that education isn’t and shouldn’t be thought of as job-training, but rather a passion for learning about everything one can in life – every word, every page made me want to fist pump and scream YES! YES! YES!
My favorite is when he talks about the teachers and administrators who demand silence and dominate their classrooms:
“I often think I should be a tough, disciplined teacher, organized and focused, a John Wayne of pedagogy, another Irish schoolmaster wielding stick, strap, cane,” he writes. “Tough teachers deliver the goods for forty minutes. Digest this lesson, kids, and be ready to throw it up on exam day.”
“I don’t see a class as one unit sitting and listening to me. There are faces showing degrees of interest or indifference.”
“Principals want order, routine, discipline. They prowl the hallways. They peer through the windows in classroom doors. They want to see boys and girls with heads bent over books, boys and girls writing, boys and girls with hands raised, excited, eager to answer teacher’s questions. Good teachers run a tight ship. They maintain discipline and that is crucial…”
Order, discipline, and a quiet atmosphere will probably never be found in my classroom (except maybe on test days…I found it so fascinating how my high schoolers settled in without a peep on test days…maybe it was 10 years of training?!). I am in awe of teachers who demand respect from their students by raising their voices and commanding presence over their classroom like military leaders. Actually, I’m in awe of ANYONE who has this ability. But can you ever imagine me doing this in any aspect of my life? Whether it be in the classroom or out? HELL NO. It would literally be impossible for me to even try this. But I feel such intense pressure to perform in this way. McCourt’s admittance that he, too, felt this pressure was so reassuring. In the end, he just stuck to who he was. Maybe other teachers judged him for it, but it was his classroom and his life and career. So, honestly, he just ended up not giving a damn. I really hope I come to learn this lesson sooner rather than later.
Other notable firsts:
* I have never posted a blog post on a Monday!
* I had never conducted a symphonic band in concert before. I did this last Tuesday night and SOMEHOW made it through the day without barfing. Good GOD I hate performances.
* I had never finished student teaching before. The last day was spent saying bye to all of the kids, having them fill out evaluations, and having an awesome party in the theory class. I knew I was going to miss them all terribly. So many lessons learned, and it helped me remember that teaching is SO much better than subbing.
The reviews confirmed what so many of you told me – that students can sense hesitancy and/or fear. It was pretty amazing to see the range of responses on their evaluations. My theory students all said that I “knew my stuff” and that I really helped them understand concepts. The Wind Ensemble kids (who I didn’t work with very much – only when my cooperating teacher was out and then I mostly had them do things related to listening exercises instead of conducting them) said I “knew my stuff” and was friendly and approachable. But the Symphonic Band kids (I worked the most with them and conducted one of their pieces) had different responses. All said that I was nice/friendly/approachable, but on the question asking how well I knew my content, I was getting 3s!!!!!! And a few even commented that I seemed hesitant and not confident!!!
I don’t quite know how to rectify this in the future – I’m a horrible actor and can’t really cover this part of me up. I suppose that I’ll just have to have a little faith that I’ll grow out of this as I gain more experience. Here is my favorite evaluation from a Wind Ensemble student. It confirmed that (at least this student!) picked up on everything that I strive to be in the classroom.
* I had never marched in a parade with LOLHS before. I got to go back and see them this morning and marched with them to the cemetery for the town’s Memorial Day festivities. The last time I marched in a parade was my senior year of high school! It was so nice to see the kids again, too…I’ve only been gone a week but it seems like forever ago!
* I had never played (or heard of) an otamatone before. One of my theory students has one and brought it in for me to play. Unfortunately I can’t get the video off of my phone, so that’ll have to come at a later date. Here’s one covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Hilarious.
* I had never visited Linda and Roland’s beach house in Westerly. It was BEAUTIFUL and will be an amazing house with a crap ton of memories to be made over the years. I had also never introduced Dante to any of my dad’s “network of boys” before. They said he fit right in 🙂
* I had never seen a standup comedy routine live in a huge venue before. I went to see Chelsea Handler with my mom on Saturday at Mohegan Sun. Both she and her opener are not exactly my cup of tea when it comes to comedians (they’re a bit too mean for my taste – I like self-deprecating, goofy people like Andy Samburg or Jimmy Fallon or Louis C.K.), but they were both still very funny for their style of humor. I also never noticed that this banner hung up there:
I immediately cracked up, as these concerts were the BANE OF THE MJ STEAK HOUSE HOST STAND for all 13 shows!!! The word “overbooked” doesn’t even begin to explain how busy we were those nights!