Sunday, March 29, 2020

What's Really Behind Those Schoolwork Packets, Or, Modern Education

Elden does a great job portraying a year in the lives of high school teachers at fictional Brae Hill Valley High School. The story takes place in Texas but teachers from all over will recognize themselves in the frustrations and hopes of these characters.During the course of the school year the tale switches back and forth from Language Arts (Lena is a spoken-word poet) to Science (Hernan has a green thumb and a crush on Lena) to Math (Maybelline has a teenage daughter at home) to Football (Coach Ray has a bellow and a soft heart) to idealistic Social Studies teacher Kaylee and tired Principal Dr. Barrios. It’s like reading a script for Parks and Rec or The Office, funny and touching at the same time. We get glimpses of their home lives and personal dreams as well as their teaching days and hopes for their students. These characters reminded me so much of teachers I have been and known, including my parents. Their hopes and dreams aren’t much different than those of the students, just more seasoned. There’s a satirical thread running through the course of this academic year: Brae Hill Valley has been chosen to model the next great packaged education system! Guaranteed! (Not.) It’s hard, when teachers have been teaching for millennia, to have to put up with fads in education; the underlying satire in the book pokes at academic and marketing professionals who proffer “expert” advice without ever having experienced the job itself. This is the cliché of modern life; it’s just particularly ironic in education. The real guarantees of education come from caring about the kids, about the subject you’re teaching, and having different strategies for different learners. This would be a great book club book; there are some reading group questions at the end—might remind you of English essays in your past, and a good author interview in the back of the book. Recommended.

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