It’s been made fun of, in jest– I’m presuming– but YES I belong to a “professional” book club, which means we (a group of teachers from the middle school and high school) choose a book with an educational topic, read it w/in a month or so, then meet to discuss it at one of the teacher’s homes over cocktails and appetizers.
This month’s selection was Tony Danza’s I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, in which Danza share’s his experiences teaching one course of English at an inner city Philedelphia school for one year that is being taped for an A&E reality show Teach: Tony Danza. While Danza admits the show didn’t meet with success, primarily due to his conviction NOT to make a drama out of the lives of his students. He vehemently fought with producers who wanted to “stage” certain events for a television audience, something that Danza refused again and again. I gained a lot of respect for Danza, who had wanted to be a teacher before falling into the acting business, as he takes the job seriously and becomes quite empathetic as well as creative in trying to reach these students. What struck me most was that here is a virtual outsider to the teaching profession, and in the midst of all of this criticism of teachers and unions and education, in general, as of late, he goes into this school– from an objective standpoint– and sees what we see on a daily basis times six. I only wish the legislators who were making the decisions about the direction of education would put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and do one fraction of what Danza did before putting their uninformed practices and philosophies about education in ink.
During our book talk, I’m reminded of Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary, a teacher who takes illiterate, intellectually deficient, inner city kids and transforms them into students who are motivated to learn by making them part of the conversation.
The word CONVERSATION being the key to education. “A good education helps us make sense of the world and find our way in it,” says Rose, something I’m a huge proponent of. How is this achieved? By reading (various texts), listening to and sharing with others, by experiencing, by making connections across texts and personal, educational and environmental experiences. We need the conversation: between students and their peers, between teacher and students, between teachers and their colleagues, between administrations and teachers, between politicians and administrators and teachers, between parents and teachers, between parents and students, and so on and so on. Somewhere along the way, communication/conversation has been lost. Even Danza states, “Students retain ideas best through discussion.” We’re so caught up in the red tape and statistics, common this and common that, standardized tests and data driven instruction, that we’ve lost what is at our very core.
While we began this journey (the “professional” book club) as an effort to bridge the gap between middle school and high school teachers, we’ve found that, fundamentally, we are not so different from one another as we originally thought. Inherently, we have the same goals for our students and ourselves. This has become as much a personal journey as it is a professional one. Out of our own time, because we care, we take the time to talk the talk about making this profession a better one. Our conversation always begins with the book as the focus, then moves into threads of topics that stem from the ideas discussed in the book– student issues, climate issues, pedagogical issues. Together/ collaboratively, we are better in sorting out the issues we face than we would be by just ourselves. To me, this is a microcosm of what is NOT happening in education and needs to be.