One of the best books about teaching I’ve ever read is Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students by Gregory Michie.
I didn’t read it until three years after I’d started teaching, and I needed it. In Holler…, Michie examines his teaching career in Chicago public schools and his attempt to connect with his kids in a way that is honest and frank without losing optimism.
Michie’s updates on former students helped me the most. As he wrote about catching up with them years down the road, not all of them were successful, not all of them had made their way to a better life.
I was teaching at Phoenix Academy in Sarasota, FL when I read Holler. At Phoenix, we recruited the lowest achieving students in the district and offered them smaller class sizes and intensive non-traditional instruction with the goal of moving them toward grade level and a successful transition to a traditional high school.
As you can imagine, it was a tough fight with many losing battles. Michie’s book was helpful because it helped me to redefine what success meant in education. Here was a guy who had made many attempts similar to the ones I was making at Phoenix, finding out he hadn’t saved everyone, and still remaining optimistic about his profession.
I bring this up because August 18 another book about teaching appeared in book stores across North America. The book is entitled Teaching Hope: Stories from the Freedom Writer Teachers, and I helped write it.
The book is by 150 teachers from across North America. Every state is represented as well as several provinces in Canada and teachers from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
It’s not a how-to. In fact, it’s far from it. You’ll find no lesson plans or new pedagogical approaches within its pages.
It’s also not about teacher martyrdom or teacher messiahs. Yes, there are moments of success and moments or failure, but they sit alongside one another – as do the moments in a school year.
It’s not meant to preach or presume to have the answers. In the end of one entry, when a teacher asks a student whether he will attempt suicide again, the answer is simply, “Yes.” I don’t know what to do with that.
I hope that it is three things:
1) I hope it is a window for those outside of teaching into many facets of education that doesn’t try to be what Tom Moore or Dan Meyer hate about teaching movies, but instead offers something more complex.
2) I hope it is a conduit of connection for teachers who read it.
3) I hope it is a catalyst toward increasing community involvement in education.
As of today, Teaching Hope is #33 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for Paperback Nonfiction. I hope the people who put it there are finding what I found in Holler.