Roxanna Elden’s book See Me After Class: Advice By Teachers, For Teachers is clear from the get-go about what it is and isn’t. It’s not professional development (“It’s meant to keep you from getting discouraged when it seems like all those fabulous ideas you learned in training don’t work in your own classroom”); it’s not Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul (“It’s more like Hard Liquor for the Teacher’s Soul—new teachers need something stronger than chicken soup”); and the book is not Teaching for Dummies (“Dummies shouldn’t be teachers….and acting like a hard job can be done easily is a sure way to do it wrong”).
Instead, See Me After Class is a book about teachers who make mistakes and still go on to be successful teachers. It’s based on the premise that teachers who admit those mistakes can teach rookies more than those who present a façade of perfection. Roxanna compiles the experiences and advice of hundreds of teachers and adds it to her own unique perspective as someone who has taught all over the country in every setting from elementary through adult ed, and (gasp!) is in the classroom still.
The table of contents is standard new-teacher-survival-kit fare, covering the range of organization, lesson planning, NCLB, testing, and dealing with parents. What sets the book is apart is Roxanna’s conversational tone and sharp wit that conveys an insider’s knowledge without even a hint of superiority. Here’s Roxanna’s take on:
When classroom management books fall short: “After lunch the clock moves much slowly than our students do. Your class begins to remind you of a bar full of little drunk people: They want constant attention and often don’t realize how loud they are talking. They have short attention spans; rarely think of the consequences of their actions; and, as you will find out tomorrow, they don’t always remember what happened the day before.”
Whether to eat in the teacher’s lounge: “My second year I made sure to eat lunch in the lounge at least once a week, and it wasn’t as bad as everyone said. Okay, I’m lying. It was exactly like everyone said, but it was still better than spending the whole day without seeing other adults…Most of your coworkers will be outstanding citizens…At every school, however, there are a few reminders that you don’t need a license to carry a ‘#1 Teacher!!!’ mug.”
Dealing with incompetent administrators: “One of the most common mistakes new teachers make is crossing their principal’s radar too early, too often, and for the wrong reasons. In college, students are encouraged to speak up and work to change what is wrong with the world. Public school systems, on the other hand, are bureaucracies—large, slow, inflexible, and partly focused on keeping people in their jobs until they retire. And principals don’t improve because a teacher questions their common sense during a faculty meeting. In fact, rookies who confront administrators in public call their own common sense into question. The advice you hear about students needing to save face applies to most people. It definitely applies to your boss.”
Throughout the book, there are ideas and stories submitted by the teachers she interviewed. Some are hilarious, some unbelievable, and many offer practical advice such as:
For students who come without paper, I keep a stack in the back of the room, but draw lines down the side of the stack with a red marker. I tell students any assignment done on red-marked paper automatically loses ten points (although I rarely enforce this).
At the beginning of the year I tape playing cards to each desk to divide students into teams. I keep a corresponding deck of cards in my desk. Whenever I ask a question, students get a moment to discuss it with their group. Then I pick a card to decide who answers. If the answer is correct, the whole group gets a point or reward. If the chosen kid says, ‘Huh? What was the question?’ his whole group stands up until they have another chance to prove themselves. This puts pressure on everyone to pay attention, and kids who know the answer get a chance to share it with their teammates. After students answer, their cards go back in the deck so they know they can be called on again.
The end of the book has a list of questions to give students for anonymous opinion surveys. I’m already a big fan of this practice, but the questions Roxanna suggests are hands down the most thought-provoking ones I’ve ever seen (How did your behavior, attendance, and effort in the class compare to what you did in other classes? Did anything important happen this year that the teacher didn’t notice? Please write and answer one other question that should have been on this survey).
“See Me After Class” was a fun read even as a veteran teacher, mostly because I never knew what Roxanna would admit to next. I love teachers that know how to keep it real, and Roxanna’s definitely got that down (if you don’t believe me, take Mrs. Mimi’s word on it: her post is what inspired me to contact Roxanna and ask for a review copy, ‘cuz if Mrs. Mimi says it’s fab, then it’s fab!). You can also check Roxanna out on Twitter: her feed is that perfect blend of useful info, wit, and (my personal favorite) sarcasm.