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Book Club: I'll See You After Class

It's been almost twenty years since I taught in a K-12 classroom and more than a dozen years since I last supervised student teachers. So, readers probably appreciate that I tend not to have a lot to say when it comes to classroom instruction.

But I recently picked up a new book, Roxanna Elden's See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, which I wish had been around when I started teaching. Elden, a teacher down in Miami-Dade, skips the treacle and talks straight, with a heavy dose of practicality, a dash of cynicism, and wry humor. I dug it, and recommend it.

Given my own dyspeptic nature, it's no surprise that she had me at "No Child Left...Yeah, Yeah, You Know," a chapter in which she utters truths that the "it's for the kids" mafia has long sought to censor. She observes, "We sometimes have kids we don't like: bullies, eye-rollers, girls who look like younger versions of our ex's new girlfriend, et cetera. We know we shouldn't have favorites, but certain kids make our day, while others just make our day harder."

Elden cautions elementary teachers not to slip into a false sense of security: "Grade school kids are little and cute, right? They'd be terrified of going into a classroom when they weren't supposed to, right? I mean, it's not like two of your sweetest, best-behaved fourth-graders would sneak out of line at the end of the day, hide in the boys' bathroom, sneak back into the room, open your desk drawer, steal an expensive toy belonging to their classmate, and let you come back into the room with the girl's mother to find a $100 toy inexplicably missing, right? Wrong. Lock your door."

I appreciated this as a far more amusing and erudite version of my old classroom motto: "Every child is capable of great things, and also of stealing Mrs. Schweitzer's Lexus, driving it off an embankment on Interstate 10, and wrapping it around a telephone poll at upwards of fifty miles an hour."

Elden offers one of the pithiest analogies I've heard for how teachers should view their principal: "Your administration is like a bra: if it provides the support you need, you look better and feel better. If it fits poorly, it gets in your way and can even become painful." She's downright generous to administrators ("Who," she writes, "don't get me wrong, do important jobs"). She's less enamored of "presenters or auditors from a downtown office" ("who," she writes, "do...jobs").

Elden is funny enough that she's got Dave Barry (yep, THAT Dave Barry) blurbing her book. Barry writes, "You know how you've always thought if you were a teacher, you'd go insane? Well, this very funny book proves that you definitely would. But in a good way."

In four pages, Elden lays out for new teachers--with specific guidance and simple explanations--a filing system that would've saved me endless grief, and one that's a whole lot more practical and straightforward than what some high-priced instructional coaches are peddling.

I loved her take on professional development...and research. Elden writes, "As you attend training sessions, you will learn that if your students are not using 'learning logs,' your entire year may be a waste of time. Some of the kids may even 'unlearn' everything they have learned in their lives. No, wait! Kids can't understand what they read unless you have done pre-reading activities with manipulatives. No, sorry, that's wrong, too. Research has shown that any sentence beginning 'Research has shown...' can end in many contradictory ways, especially if someone is trying to sell something."

Look, you get the idea. If you're a new teacher or an aspiring teacher seeking some smart guidance, check it out. If Elden strikes you as amusing, again, check it out. But, come on, it's not easy to find an author who quotes a teacher saying, "I came back from being out and was still a little sick....and the first thing the students told me was that they missed the substitute."

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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