Rafe is a constant reminder at how good my classroom can be and how much harder I have to work to bring it there. Here are some bits I wish to remember without having to re-read the book:
There are no shortcuts: nothing is given to us in life. Show students how famous people (and not so famous people) have worked hard in life to get where they are. Explain that if you’re not the best reader or writer, you can become excellent by working hard. It’s not easy, but you have to work hard to make progress. Note to self: put a “there are no shortcuts” banner in classroom.
Even great teachers (such as Rafe) have bad days and feel like failures.
The first few years of teaching (most people say the first three) are going to be pretty lousy, and you’re probably going to be a terrible teacher. That’s just how things are. Think of where you’ll be at the end of those three years and how it’ll be worth it.
“But the warning is here for all you young teachers who dare to be first-rate – there will be many who will try to stop you. Outstanding teaching will require you not only to do everything in your power to reach your students but to battle forces that are supposed to be on your side. You may be lucky and wind up in that rare school or district where those in charge support your efforts. However, it’s not unusual for people more concerned with money, politics, and power to hinder the efforts of dedicated teachers. So be prepared for battle, unless you want to be like everyone else” (34-35; my emphasis).
Read books you love so as to pass your enthusiasm of the books onto children. Teach literature and the classics; read aloud; teach students to discuss the books; plan which students will read which paragraphs aloud. Some of the books Rafe reads with students are: Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (by Alex Haley), Native Son, The Joy Luck Club, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Treasure Island, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Night, The Diary of a Young Girl, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, The Hobbit.
Don’t have time to teach literature because of a mandated reading/writing program? Do it at lunch or form a before/after school book club.
Rafe writes quite a bit about students working hard because they know they must in order to catch up to their wealthier, more privileged peers. I’m having trouble understanding how exactly he pulls this off without making the kids feel terrible about themselves. One idea I have is giving students their reading scores, often provided by standardized tests such as the MAP (at least in my state). I might say something like, “Kids in your grade across town are reading at lexiles between ______ and ______, but many/all of you in this class scored below that. Our class’ spelling and writing scores are also lower. Here’s why: those kids come from families that speak English as their first language. They have more money to visit museums, to travel, to pay for musical instruments and tutors, and to buy lots of books. They have more money not because they work harder or are smarter but because wealth is unequal in America. It’s not anybody’s fault. But, if you want to go to good schools, get good jobs, and be as smart as them and as smart as you can possibly be, you have to work harder. I can help you jump grade levels and become a better reader and writer, but we have to work harder than anybody else in this school.”
“My classroom is my courtroom. I am going to lose more than I win. There are many times when, despite my efforts, I will lose children to poverty, ignorance, and, most tragically, a society that embraces mediocrity.
“But that doesn’t paralyze me anymore. I have a code, as any good teacher or parents must have. It doesn’t matter if I lost a battle yesterday. It doesn’t matter if the odds are against me. It doesn’t matter if I’m just one fellow trying to fight television, corporations, and a society that hasn’t yet achieved Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of judging someone by the content of his character” (98).
Beginning on page 139, Rafe details his classroom economy setup. I’ll post another blog on that subject.