As the start of a new school year approaches, five new books show the differences made in the lives of students by connected educators, a productive environment and even an agreeable substitute teacher.
When Denver teacher Kyle Schwartz gave each of her third graders a sticky note and the prompt, “I wish my teacher knew,” she was floored by the heartfelt responses from children who described their painful home lives, the loneliness they face, the things that bring them joy and pride, and their hopes for the future. Schwartz began tweeting her students’ answers and was surprised when her seemingly simple exercise went viral.
She explains the phenomenon in I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids. Schwartz opens with an overview of the project’s purpose: to create community and a positive learning environment for every child. She argues that teachers can make an impact on children’s lives in many difficult areas, including poverty, grief and loss, trauma and accepting families in all their forms. Detailed Teacher Tools provide suggestions for transforming any classroom or school into a greater community. After reading Schwartz’s book, teachers will be inspired to join the #IWishMyTeacherKnew movement and get to know their students better.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Before receiving funding in 2010 to open a small public middle school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, principal Nadia Lopez envisioned her students crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Even though they live near this architectural marvel, most had never seen it, let alone walked across it. Crossing the bridge would not only become a rite of passage for these students, it would also come to symbolize the connection between their difficult past and a brighter future.
In The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World, the compassionate yet no-nonsense Lopez describes how she started from scratch to build a school that became a beacon of hope, determination and success. If her story sounds familiar, it’s because her accomplishments drew widespread praise after a student revealed them on the popular Humans of New York blog. In this stirring account, Lopez reveals that listening to her students and seeing them as individuals despite their harsh environment have made all the difference.
COUNTING ON SUCCESS
Successful teaching is the best preventative discipline method. Recognizing that teachers and kids aren’t perfect, however, 1-2-3 Magic in the Classroom: Effective Discipline for Pre-K through Grade 8 offers easy-to-implement strategies as a backup. Authors Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., and Sarah Jane Schonour, M.A., based this guide for educators on 1-2-3 Magic, a bestselling discipline guide for parents.
After learning about the “teacher in charge” method that uses counting and non-judgmental consequences, readers are introduced to “start” behaviors (such as doing classwork) and “stop” behaviors (such as yelling). The authors emphasize the importance of avoiding the two biggest discipline mistakes: too much talking and too much emotion. To help with implementation, they present numerous scenarios to think about or role play.
For educators who worry about more serious discipline problems, disciplining students with developmental differences or discipline at different grade levels, the guide includes comprehensive Q&As and more scenarios from the trenches. It might not be true magic, but if used successfully, this technique will feel like it.
Manufacturing in the United States is rebounding, and according to Katherine S. Newman and Hella Winston, many fast-growing occupations are considered “middle skill.” Labor force -shortages have already occurred in jobs that require education beyond high school, but not a four-year college degree. Reskilling America offers a convincing argument for bringing back vocational education.
Beginning with a history of vocational education and the transition to “college for all,” which left many students, particularly minority men, without career prospects, the thought-provoking text emphasizes investment in training institutions, both in high schools and community colleges. It looks to Germany as a model for relationships between industry and education that have fostered a robust dual system combining vocational education with apprenticeships. The authors describe the success of this system, Germany’s attempt at creating similar programs in the U.S. and the slow revival of vocational education in U.S. schools. Not just funding—but a renewed respect for middle-skill labor—might be the key to success in this country.
Award-winning author Nicholson Baker has tackled such daunting subjects as World War II, library preservation, poetry and even erotic stories. He takes on perhaps his most unwieldy topic yet—the state of American education—in Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. In this hefty volume, to be published September 6, Baker recounts the 28 days he spent in Maine’s public schools in 2014 as “the lowest-ranking participant in American education: a substitute teacher.” With a clean criminal record and “a willingness to tolerate your own ineptitude,” plus a short evening course that would earn him an extra $5 per day, Baker had all he needed to substitute.
Each chapter, representing one day, gives a snapshot into a classroom, from kindergarten to high school special education math. Rather than provide commentary, the author lets the teacher’s sub plans, classroom environment and dialogue with and between students guide each chapter. The result is an often chaotic, exhausting—and entertaining—view of the school day in which he is usually saved by coffee, an eager student and the final bell. Baker emerges with empathetic appreciation for all the students and teachers who bear these ups and downs daily.