Friday, December 28, 2012

Philly TeacherMan’s 2012 Reading (or waiting to be read) List


Not too long ago, I came across a list 50 most popular books for teachers.  As I scanned the list, I was a little dismayed at the lack of substance in the titles.  Lots of books of wit, quotes, jokes, and heartwarming stories, but not much professional analysis or criticism. 

(To be fair, there are a few good ones on the list.  I love Parker Palmer and actually reread him a few weeks ago. Perlstein’s Tested is good. So is Mondale’s School. I’ve heard Roxanna Elden speak and  See Me After Class is supposed to be pretty good.  And I was happy to see a text about Teacher-Researchers on the list.  That’s an important field that we need to grow).  

All in all, most of the books seem like little gifts parents might pick up at Hallmark to give to the teachers at the holidays.  
The list got me thinking about what I’ve read over the past 12 months and the stack of books that continues to grow in my office (and bedroom and living room).  To further demonstrate my textual obsession, let me share the agreement my wonderful fiancĂ©e and I have: If she doesn’t say anything about the constant stream of books that arrive at our door from Amazon, I won’t say anything about the dresses that arrive from Ideeli.  We get along fine.

At any rate, I’m very happy with the amount of reading that I’ve been able to get done this year.  What appears on the list below does not include the stuff that I taught, but it does include a couple of things that I started in my final semester of grad school and finished later in the year.  
I think it’s really important for teachers (and everyone for that matter) to continue to read on their own.  My list happens to be dominated by non-fiction that is related to my classroom or my population, but I suppose that’s just where my mind is now.  I also feel that many of my fiction needs are met in the classroom through short stories and novels that I teach across my five classes. 

Salzman, Mark - True Notebooks
Tatum, Alfred - Teaching Reading to Black and Adolescent Males
Goodman, Greg - Alternatives in Education: Critical pedagogy for disaffected youth
Stein, Garth - The Art of Racing in the Rain
Palmer, Parker - The Courage to Teach
Humes, Edward - No Matter How Loud I Shout
Moore, Wes - The Other Wes Moore
Delpit, Lisa - Multiplication is for White People
Harbach, Chad - The Art of Fielding
Ravich, Diane - The Death and the Life of the Great American School System
Hollowell, Mary - The Forgotten Room: Inside a Public Alternative School
Hill, Marc Lamont - Beats, Rymes + Classroom Life: Hip Hop pedagogy and the politics of identity
Anyon, Jean - Ghetto Schooling: A political Economy of Urban Ed Reform
Darling-Hammond, Linda - The Flat World and Education
Gallagher, Kelly - Readicide
Brooks, Max - World War Z
Pink, Daniel - Drive

Still in the Queue
Aarons, John et al.  - Dispatches From Juvenile Hall: Fixing a failing system
Bogira, Steve - Courtroom 301
Wilson, William Julius - More than Just Race: Begin Black and Poor in the Inner City
Meier, Deborah - The Power of their Ideas
Perry, Steele, Hillard - Young, Gifted & Black
Noguera, Pedro - The Trouble with Black Boys
Kohn, Alfie - Feel Bad Education
Tough, Paul - How Children Succeed
Sandel, Michael J. - What Money Can’t Buy

What have you enjoyed reading this year?? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Uniting in Dialogue

 Late Friday morning, one of my students barreled into 4th period and said, “Yo TeacherMan, you hear about that school that got shot up?”.
 “What? In Philly?”, I replied confused.
 “Yea. No wait” he said starring at his phone. 
I now know he was confused by the postal abbreviation CT… Connecticut. Newtown, Connecticut - A town that in the last six days has been thrust into the spotlight. 

I was truly at a loss for words after reading of what unfolded at that elementary school on Friday morning.  After all, what more is there to say about a man murdering 26 people, 20 of them children?  


By Monday morning, the news was saturated with images, stories, and conjectures about the shooting.  I sat at my computer torn about what to use as my daily warm up.  

[Every morning, I pull a couple of sentences from an interesting or relevant news story and write them with an error like and SAT question on the far side of my board.  As students search for and correct the error, we discuss the story

Though I knew the shooting was likely the biggest and possibly the only news story that my students had seen over the weekend, I felt that discussing it further might only exhaust the matter and draw out the tragedy and sadness.  However, I knew my discomfort was nothing compared to what others closer to Newtown were feeling and I certainly couldn’t ignore this event  

On the left side of the board I wrote:

Friday morning a 20-year old man forced his way into a Connecticut elementary school and began shooting.  He murdered 20 children and 6 adults before killing himself, police still don’t fully understand his motive, but they suspect he was mentally ill.  NO ERROR

I wasn’t sure what type of response to expect from my students.  Would they be tired of hearing about it?  Would it be just another story of violence in their already hyper-violent world?  Would it turn into a shouting match about gun control?

As usual, my students rose to the occasion.  In each class, we had a very different conversation, but all were very insightful, poignant, and respectful.  The discussions lasted between five and ten minutes, though at lunch several students came in to talk in greater depth, but it was clear that talking about what happened was important to everyone (myself included).  

Some of the topics we talked about:
 - Mental health as an explanation, excuse, or warning sign.
 - Safety in urban schools vs safety in suburban schools.
 - Feelings of revenge after a mass shooting.
 - Why there was so much confusion and misinformation in the media
 - People’s need for a “clean” story or narrative after a tragedy
 - Racial differences in mass shootings
 - Whether to ever reopen the school or not
 - Teachers sacrificing themselves for “other people’s kids”

At the end of the day, as my 5th and final class filed out of the room, I was left with more questions about the tragedy than I had six and a half hours earlier.  However, I didn’t feel the same discomfort.  I realize now that what I was feeling that morning was in large part due to not talking about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, by keeping my own thoughts and reactions inside.  Though the short dialogue at the beginning of class, I was able to reflect with my students on a moment of trauma that we had all experienced. 

It is impossible to imagine what the Newtown community is going through and I hope that they are able to find some tiny bit of solace in the fact that communities around the United States and around the world are uniting in their honor and in their memory.