The New Teacher Book Summaries
Gregory Michie’s “Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual” highlights the many demands that educators face and how we need to carefully pick our battles. As a first year teacher, Michie realized that there was a gap between what he wanted to do and what he could do. It is important to set reasonable goals and not make excuses because they are “the dead end for the committed teacher” (46). New educators cannot solve all of the problems and injustices at once, but if they find an ally, question the content, examine their own privilege and “appreciate the good moments” (50) they will be able to win some of the battles.
Rita Tenorio’s “‘Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club:’ Raising Issues of Race with Young Children” outlines the importance of starting discussions about race at an early age and provides age-appropriate examples. Students “mirror the attitudes of… society” (84) and adopt racist and exclusionary beliefs from an early age. Talking about race allows students to realize their similarities and differences and it challenges their assumptions before they are too concrete. Race is a potentially controversial topic but “address[ing] the issues head-on” (90) will create a more tolerant generation.
Sudie Hofmann’s “Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Students’ Family Situations” outlines the importance of getting to know our learners. We cannot assume that everyone has the same family situation. Educators must accommodate many different family types by creating inclusive letters, incorporating diverse resources and visually representing diversity. We often do not think about family situations when we make a unit plan, but it is important that all students are able to participate in the same activity without being alienated for not representing the “norm.”
In “Heather’s Moms Got Married,” Mary Cowhey talks about introducing young students to different family structures. She encourages conversations in her classroom about exclusion, sexism, teasing and name-calling. Furthermore, Mary states that it is important to include literature that highlights diverse families, for instance, same-sex or adoptive families. Our “fear of raising potentially controversial topics, remains the status quo in many schools” (106) and can account for our lack of growth. We need to discuss diversity so that our students can grow and learn to accept each other.
“Out Front” by Annie Johnston talks about creating a safe environment for all students, including gay and lesbian youth. Educators play a vital role in advocating for students, creating an accepting environment and stopping bullying. Schools should create and enforce a zero tolerance for bullying policy; inclusive language should be explicitly taught. Furthermore, in order for students to realize that “gay people… are a normal part of our society” we need to include them in our curriculum from “elementary school on” (119). Teachers need to be role models for their students and support one another in order for gay and lesbian youth to be included and feel safe at school.
“‘Curriculum Is Everything That Happens:’ An Interview with Veteran Teacher Rita Tenorio” defines curriculum as all of the positive and negative academic and environmental factors that kids learn from at school; curriculum includes “relationships, attitudes, feelings, [and] interactions” (165). The curriculum is also impacted by the “larger social forces” (164). Tenorio recommends getting to know your students, being open to learning, identifying your own stereotypes, questioning what is being taught, and finding allies. She suggests that teachers must “find a way to go beyond what is being scripted” (166) because what is being practiced does not always foster multiple intelligences or allow for inclusion.
Bob Peterson and Kelley Dawson Salas’ article “Working Effectively with English Language Learners” describes how to make your classroom inclusive and beneficial to English language learners. It is important to “speak slowly, audibly, and clearly” (185). Using “visual cues,” small group work and “active methods of learning” (185) can help ELL students. It is important to introduce concepts ahead of time and practice student-based learning. Teachers should try to learn about their students and their cultures. Furthermore, teachers must get their students the support they need; ELL learners may have other special needs and it is the job of the educator to realize this.
In the article, “Teaching Controversial Content” by Kelley Dawson Salas, she expresses the fears teachers have about teaching controversial topics. Salas suggests that fear is needed for growth. We have the greatest control over our classrooms and can take chances, as long as we follow the curriculum. However, it is important to inform parents and administrators about controversial topics. New teachers should not ignore potentially controversial topics due to their fears because it is important to start conversations at an early age. As a new teacher, you can research social justice lessons to get started but these topics cannot be ignored.
Bill Bigelow’s “Even First-Year Teachers Have Rights” describes a time when he taught a book that had controversial topics. A parent complained to the principal and this resulted in tension between the administrator and Bigelow. The administrator made him scratch out the swear words and “limited… the inventiveness of [this] new teacher” (210). The book was a curriculum text and therefore, Bigelow did not do anything wrong. Bigelow got support from the union and a veteran teacher and realized that he actually had a lot of freedom. In the end, he realized that parents are not always the enemy but they do need to be included in their children’s learning. It is important that first year teachers realize what their rights are so that they can handle conflict appropriately.
“Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year” by Dale Weiss outlines the struggles that he had as a first year teacher when he tried to implement change. In a staff meeting, Weiss proposed that the library should have Christmas decorations, as well as, decorations from other religious holidays. The other teachers took offense to this; they said they were uncomfortable teaching what they did not know about, they were more experienced than Weiss and that they were “used to doing the same things every year” (320). Weiss learned that he should have approached the controversial Christmas topic differently; he could have brought it up in another season or waited until he had been in the school for more than a few months. It is important to critique our own schools but implementing change needs to be approached in a very cautious manner.