“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.” by Judy Blume is certainly not a book about a teacher and a teaching career. It’s a young adult book about growing up and figuring out one’s identity.
It depends on how you are reading it.
There are those times at school when I have really long days and I need some quiet time to recharge around noon. At least once or twice a week I drink my tea in the classroom instead of going to the staff room and read books from our tiny class library. It’s an eclectic collection of graded readers and books at wildly different levels, composed of books that were donated or ones I’ve picked up at “free-book-corners” at the municipal library.
Now that I’m working my way through the Blume book (I must have read it when I was about ten years old but that was a long time ago!) I find myself zooming in on a minor character in the book with a running commentary in my head. The character is, of course, the teacher, Mr. Miles J. Benedict, Jr.
“Really, Mrs. Simon, (aka Margaret ‘s Mom), did you have to groan when Margaret said she had a first-year teacher? And claim that there is nothing worse? Couldn’t you have kept that thought to yourself? How about giving the new teacher a chance?”
“How did you manage that impressive feat, Mr. Miles J. Benedict, Jr.? The entire class didn’t write their names on their quizzes, as an attempt to pay you back for changing their seating placements in class after they misbehaved. Not only didn’t you say a single word about it, but each student also got the correct quiz back with his /her name on it! What classroom management technique did you employ here? Was it the fact that you had samples of the students’ handwriting from the first day of class when you asked them about themselves? How did you stay so calm?”
I haven’t finished rereading the book yet. My apologies to Margaret but I do hope there will be more about how the new teacher goes through his journey of coming into his own as a teacher in the remaining chapters. There is something fascinating about “seeing” the process as told through the eyes of a student, not as reported by a teacher.
The only problem is that Blume’s book is a work of fiction. Could a teacher really do that handwriting trick and stay so calm? What do you think?
Peter Hessler’s “River Town – Two years on the Yangtze” is a completely different kind of book. Put aside for a moment the truly fascinating aspects of the book related to history and life in a remote place in China in 1996, this isn’t a “Saturday’s Book Post” review. In this book, not only does the American Peter Hessler write about his experiences teaching English as a foreign language in a small teacher’s college in China, but he also relates what it was like to study Mandarin, in China, from a teacher who spoke no English.
The interplay of language and culture is what makes Hessler’s experiences particularly worth discussing for teachers. Take the issue of praise vs. criticism as an example. How criticism is delivered, how much, how often and how severe it is employed as a tool, is related to culture. Teachers everywhere encounter students bringing different cultures and behaviors from their respective homes into the classrooms. Even if the differences are not as extreme as Hessler describes.
Interestingly enough, Hessler’s book is also a book about a young person trying to establish his identity as a person worthy of respect, especially outside the classroom’s walls. In China, according to the book, the teacher is always respected inside the classroom…
I read for pleasure and to broaden my horizons and most of the books I read have nothing to do with teaching. But I must admit that there’s something fascinating about examining the roles of teachers in books and how they are perceived. I can’t exactly put my finger on the reason for it.
Does it matter if the reason remains elusive?
Here’s to reading and books!