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Bruno: Reviewing Roxanna Elden's "See Me After Class"

6a00e54f8c25c98834019b00c8103e970d-300wiTeaching - perhaps because it involves children, or maybe because it's a public service - is a heavily romanticized profession.

The "best" teachers are usually portrayed as epic heroes in movies. Even in classic "practical" teaching guides like The First Days of School or Teach Like a Champion it is often implied that effective teaching requires an unattainable level of technical virtuosity.

As a result, there are many hard truths about teaching that are rarely stated. Those with experience usually understand these realities - that it might be worth throwing away student work to save yourself an evening of grading, for example, or that group work is often a waste of class time - but new teachers may either find themselves surprised by them or consider themselves failures for admitting them.

 That's where Roxanna Elden's See Me After Class, recently released in a second edition, comes in.

Elden has no qualms about admitting that it might make sense to "go absolutely nuts" at your worst class or that low-skilled kids will repeatedly "break your heart" over the course of the year. Crucially, she frames these facts as disappointments (at worst) rather than failures.

This, in turn, makes the book encouraging rather than discouraging because one of the most frustrating experiences for new teachers - or maybe for any teacher - is thinking that other teachers aren't experiencing the same disappointments that you are.

Aimed primarily at new teachers, SMAC is one part how-to manual, two parts survival guide. There are lots of useful tips about how to organize files and papers, how to save time on grading, and how to interact with administrators and difficult colleagues. There is also a (somewhat) more elaborate discussion of the challenges of classroom management.

These are the kinds of things that teacher preparation programs are notoriously bad at providing to trainees, but SMAC doesn't include everything new teachers should know before they enter the classroom. Most notably, Elden discusses lesson planning only very briefly and instruction comes up almost not at all. Many other topics are covered in chapters that have - perhaps wisely - sacrificed detail for brevity and readability.

Still, there is a great deal of information and insight here that new teachers will not have gotten elsewhere or will not believe until they've seen it in print.

There are a number of very good books that novices can read to learn about teaching, but See Me After Class sets itself apart by better capturing what it actually feels like to be a new - or otherwise imperfect - teacher.  - PB (@MrPABruno)


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