The Teachable Moment (book review)

August 29, 2010

in new and noteworthy books

Book Cover I’ve long been a fan of Rebecca Branstetter’s blog Notes From the School Psychologist, and when she published her first book, I was so excited for her to send me a copy. It’s called The Teachable Moment: Seizing the Instants When Children Learn, and it’s a collection of essays by educators about those ‘aha’ moments…and the many hours of ‘I’m going to stab myself in the eye with a pencil’ that come prior to the pay-off.

Since this is a different format from the type of educational books I usually review, I thought it would be fun to interview Rebecca about her experiences writing the book:

What was your first thought when Kaplan approached you with the idea for this book?

Ha! My first thought was, “Is this some kind of cruel joke? I mean, it’s like an urban legend to have an editor contact you through your blog, right?” Then, shortly after I agreed to it, I thought, “Oh crap, do I HAVE any teachable moments?!?” I think that most people outside of the profession have this idea that teachable moments are plentiful and obvious, like in the movies. In fact, the teachable moments are subtle, and often not realized until many years later.

How were the essays selected? (I know you’re friends with Mrs. Mimi…do you know the other teachers, as well?)

The Teachable Moment is full of essays from my co-workers, sorority sisters, and friends! I am blessed to know so many great teachers personally. I did reach out to other bloggers though, in an effort to make the book less Californio-urban-centric (new word) and more diverse in experience. I adore Mrs. Mimi of Its Not All Flowers and Sausages and we have become Internet BFFs because we experience many of the same challenges on different coasts. I think we are ready for our best friends necklaces (she’s “Be- Fri-”, I’m “-st -ends”). I only wish I had known about The Cornerstone when I was shopping around for authors! Don’t worry, there might be a second edition and you and your readers will be ready to contribute!

Which story in the book spoke to you the most?

Oooh. That is so hard. I’d have to say that Ryan’s Fragility made me cry like a baby. I was having a particularly bad week at work, doubting myself that my hard work would ever pay off in a tangible way. Then I read this piece and it reminded me that you never know what will be meaningful down the road for students. Stay the course and have faith that you are making a difference.

What are you hoping people will take away from this book?

I hope that people will take away some practical suggestions for how to harness teachable moments. There are a ho-jillion moments in an educator’s day where we make decisions about how to teach. Sometimes, the most horrible moments lead to the most growth for us as educators, and for the students. Also, I want teachers and school psychologists to take away the message that every day we are planting the seeds for growth. We may not see the growth right away, but the seed is planted.

Your next book will be a tell-all about urban education, right? (I’m really excited about that!) What’s the message you’re wanting to convey?

I’m so excited for my next book. It is a combination memoir and survival guide. I know it sounds weird to be writing a memoir at age 30-something, but I’m here to tell you, every year in urban education is a dog year of learning. I have over 70 years of experience that I can’t wait to share. My Facebook Fan page will be a big part of the book, as I will be soliciting real stories, real perspectives from educators all over the world. From wardrobe decisions (Just Say No to dressing like the second sister wife in Big Love!) to dealing with dangerous crises and evil school/district politics (aka Bureaucracy Monsters), it will be a resource you will want to have when you first enter the field as well as when you are burned out. We need good educators in urban settings now more than ever. I had a burned out teacher once say to me, “Only the crazy educators stay in urban education”. Well, call me crazy, but I love it.

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The Teachable Moment is a fun read, and as you can probably predict from Rebecca’s interview, there’s a heavy dose of humor throughout the book. I love that each contributor shares not just his or her successes, but the learning curve along the way–that’s what makes the book inspirational without being preachy or condescending. Some of the stories feature undeniable and sudden break-throughs, while others aren’t fully realized until after the fact. And that’s exactly how teachable moments work–unexpected, bordering on the miraculous, and waiting to be seized as a learning opportunity for both the student and teacher. These essays capture the beauty in that, perfectly.

Make sure you visit Rebecca’s blog, too–she has an unusual perspective as a school psychologist working in urban elementary, middle, AND high schools. She shares excellent tips for handling difficult children and situations, and has a way of turning serious and potentially dull topics (like disabilities and Response to Intervention) into something fascinating, hilarious, and informative. In her most recent post, Rebecca interviewed me, so check it out and learn how I applied the principles of constructing a self-running classroom to the life of, um, my cat. Yes, somehow I divulged that. Enjoy.

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

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