Saturday, August 29, 2009

Educating Esmé: Diary of A Teachers First Year

It's been ten years since this outstanding book first hit the market. To celebrate the Back to School season and let YOU know about this fabulous book, we've joined in a book tour to bring the author to YOU. We've split the information between our two sites.

On The Review Broads you'll find Broad "A's" book review and here on Champagne Living we're bringing you a couple of questions and answers with the author herself. So, enjoy going to back to school with your kids through a teacher's view!

I'd LOVE to have you leave a comment.

Question - "Educating Esmé", your diary of your first year of teaching in a Chicago public school, has been called the “gold standard” for the “foxhole memoir” by the New York Times and has sold over 200,000 copies. With this recent reissue of the book, what’s new?

Esme- The diary itself is exactly the same, but there’s a new foreword by Katherine Paterson, author of "Bridge to Teribithia", and a meaty guide that’s been added called “Hit the Ground Running,” which I created to help new teachers do just that. The most common question I’m asked is, “Do you have any advice for new teachers?” Now readers will find over twenty-five really specific and hopefully pragmatic pieces of advice and also a comprehensive shopping list for the first-year teacher.

Question - Do you think the profession has changed since you wrote this diary?

Esme- The extreme to which educators “teach to the test” feels different today. Teachers seem to be held to a new level of stringency in terms of content, and the climate is more fearful due to the punitive responses when schools don’t perform up to standards. Who wants to work in a setting where the children and the teacher feel they can’t make mistakes or where they can’t use their imaginations?

Contrary to the belief of many third graders and public figures, most people don’t become teachers because they want to give tests. When the No Child Left Behind Act and all of the ensuing mania over high-stakes standardized testing came along, I sincerely tried to ignore it, to shut my door on it, but it has really intruded on the culture of education. If I were just starting out now, with things the way they are . . . well, I think I might have been discouraged from the career path altogether. It saddens me to see teachers I knew to be joyous and effective worn down like the nub of a number two pencil.

One blogger offhandedly referred to our national policy alternately as “No Teacher Left Teaching.” Even with our new president, there’s a lot of holdover in that attitude. I, for one, am happy to be accountable the day we decide accountability is not a synonym for success on standardized tests. Accountability means “that which can be explained.” In my own mind, then, accountability is a synonym for documentation. In other professions, like science, people are allowed to make mistakes, to have outcomes they don’t expect, to be creative in finding solutions. . . they just have to describe what happened, try to learn from it, and try to improve. Without this kind of leeway, the teacher corps will attract a very different kind of educator and our students will suffer. I also think it’s worthwhile to remember that most remarkable individuals in American history never

took a standardized test, and there have been and will be many people who contribute positively who aren’t that good at filling in blanks. Instead they color outside the lines. But I am hopeful, because necessity is the mother of invention.

More teachers are starting to say, “Hey, you’re trying to make me work in a way that’s not allowing me to be effective with children.” And people are listening. I believe we’ll hit a tipping point, and something positive will come of all this.

Question - "Educating Esmé" is widely used both in university programs and also for pleasure reading. To what do you attribute the book’s continuing success?

Esme - I think readers appreciate that it’s an authentic diary. For some people it’s eye opening; for others it’s all too familiar. People can come at it from wherever they are, whether they are teachers or teachers-to-be or maybe were students once upon a time. Since it’s from my limited point of view, it’s fun to consider, “Would I have made the same choices or mistakes?” “Would I have done things differently, or
better, or the same?” “Would I have fired her, or quit?” The reason I published my diary was to create a dialogue around teaching in urban schools—what works, what doesn’t, and what it looks like from a teacher’s perspective. And that conversation is still relevant.

Thank you to Julie Bonn Health for providing the review copy of Educating Esme and for allowing us to be a part of this blog tour.


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