Thursday, February 11, 2016

One Hit Wonder

 Nah, it's not about the guy in the picture, though I kind of wish it were. That song was pretty catchy. I saw him sing it on the Today Show, and it was pretty cool. He speaks our language very well.

I'm not quite so sure about the guy who wrote The Battle for Room 314, which some publisher sent me for free. I mean, he speaks English, but seems very removed from the language of the classroom. I get the feeling he wants to be thanked for stepping off his pedestal and favoring us with his ruminations. And indeed, perhaps this book will find favor with people who'd never set foot in a public school under any circumstance.

Here's a capsule review from a public school teacher, based on the little I was able to get through--it is one of the worst pieces of crap I’ve ever come across. Before putting the book down, I found multiple comparisons of students to 1940s movie stars. I guess that's where the writer comes from, culturally or somehow, but I can't help but think familiarity with things that happened in the worlds of the kids we serve, say, in the last half century, may have better prepared him for teaching.

The author appears to have been terrible teacher, lacking the common sense of a number two pencil. His dealings with difficult students, which comprise the first chapter of the book, are simply abysmal. He considers freaking out in front of the class, and appears not to realize, even as he's writing this dubious memoir, that he has already freaked out in front of the class.

Quite early in the book, he trots out impossible stereotypes about bad teachers. Right after I read about the guy who sits and reads a newspaper in front of the class I knew I would not be reading the entire screed. He also labels this guy as telling a class that automobiles appreciate in value. This is a cartoon, not a character description. Unlike cartoons that are amusing, appealing or funny, this one appears to be based on stereotype rather than truth. Were it about a racial or religious group rather than teachers, it would be considered offensive and unacceptable. For the record, I consider it pretty much the same thing.

Another of his teachers simply lies in the face of a student who questions something she said in class. I find this possibly feasible, in the case of someone who's terribly insecure, but not remotely typical. I can think of one or two teachers who may have done something like this, at some time, but it's really an aberration. I don't know about you, but when someone proves me wrong I'm pretty full of mea culpa. That's absolutely the best way to deal with mistakes, unless perhaps you're Donald Trump or a bigshot in the Unity Caucus.

Maybe there's gold hidden in the pages of this book, but after reading about all the fancy people who he mixed with before landing in some horrible public school, after reading about the wonderful Bill Gates program that created the school he reviled, after reading the awkward similes and attempts at self-deprecating humor, I'm not reading any more. There is, of course, the obligatory moment where the teacher actually helps a kid despite all these obstacles, but really, you could watch Freedom Writers or some other insipid teacher film and save yourself some time.

The icing on the cake, in my view at least, is that this writer musters the audacity to add a chapter of recommendations to help public schools.This is a guy who taught for one year and failed. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. I have a lot more respect for those who hung in. But this is one of many collections of insights from one-year wonders who couldn't hack it.

Clearly the publisher saw something in this. Whatever it was eludes me completely.
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