So September 2009 was when I returned to teaching after a nine year absence. I landed a nice maternity leave replacement job, worked like the dickens, and all was right with the world. The teacher I replaced returned, I started subbing with a stack of resumes to mail out for a job for this September. Only now New Jersey public schools are facing crazy big budget cuts resulting in program cuts and layoffs galore. It's looking like this very enthusiastic English teacher with a massive hole in her resume might not be able to find a job for September. It is all pretty frustrating and demoralizing especially when I am also concerned about the cuts being made in my own children's schools. What I ought to do is ignore my troubles with some good escapist fiction: science fiction, chick-lit, English mysteries, but no, instead I am reading books about teaching that make me excited about the imaginary job I probably won't find for next year. Or worse, everything I read that is not about education specifically makes me think about education anyway or about how I would use that material in a classroom. I guess I just like salt in my wounds or a big fat pity party.
Here are two examples: I just read Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion after reading about him in the NYTimes earlier this year. Lemov works in charter schools and has observed many successful teachers working in inner city schools. He has come up with a taxonomy of 49 techniques he has seen these teachers employ to help their students achieve. Some of it is common sense. Some of it is a fresh new way of doing things. Some of it bucks trends in education. All of it interested me and made me wish I had a book like this when I was in school to become certified. If you know someone in a teacher education program right now, I highly recommend this book. It made me think about how I use time, my voice, and the physical space of my classroom. It will remain on my desk as a reference if I should be so fortunate as to have one.
I also recently finished Steve Martin's Born Standing Up and could not help but notice the ways stand up comedy is akin to high school teaching. Both deal with controlling the audience. Both require the person at the front of the room to be entertaining, quick thinking, and reflective. I love Steve Martin from The Jerk to his SNL and Muppet Show appearances to LA Story and his novella The Shopgirl. His cleverness and embrace of the absurd delight me so of course I enjoyed this book about the development and demise of his stand up career. He writes about the stand up act with great affection but also the knowledge that that is over for him. I am still so affectionate about teaching; I certainly hope I do not have to put it on hold due to the economy. So what can I read that won't put me in mind of it? Sports Illustrated? Nope. I have a hundred ways I could use that in an English classroom. Cookbooks? No again. They make me think of Frank Mc Court's Teacher Man. I may have to take up home improvement magazines or nudie ones as there doesn't seem a book out there I can completely escape into at present. So I'm off to get some copies of Playgirl and Popular Mechanics. Just kidding.