Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: Teaching the Invisibles

A Person-Oriented View of the Challenges of Working in An Urban School 

This review is from: Teaching the Invisibles (Kindle Edition)

The author details his personal experiences working in a Chicago high school. There were students and there were students. There were principals and there were principals. And so on. As an experienced urban teacher myself, I found his presentation very much in touch with the realities of the teaching profession.

Seeker's vocabulary is frank, and he is quite candid about the challenges facing a Caucasian teacher in attempting to relate to African-American students. Most of the themes of this book are familiar: Insufficient staff and equipment, racial tensions, gang violence, unsupportive administrators, a few good teachers amidst many mediocre ones, etc. Students come to school burdened with formidable issues, lacking prior knowledge, and are typically years behind in their learning levels.

The challenges of teaching today's urban students can be summarized by a question that Jack Seeker asked about the much-emphasized drive to improve standardized test scores, "How does one substantially raise test scores of children who do no learning outside of school, who lack some kind of motivation to actually learn, and who have yawning gaps in ordinary, commonplace knowledge let alone in their education?" (p. 149).

Jack Seeker emphasizes that the abolition of tracking has actually hindered student progress. It is very difficult, even for an experienced teacher, to teach students of widely divergent levels within the same class. In addition, school curriculum is still too rote oriented, and magnet schools for the more successful students are few and far between.

The author notes that many teachers have been laid off, and young adults are the ones hired because they are cheaper. Not rarely, more qualified teachers are overlooked in favor of less-capable ones. New teachers are usually unprepared for the realities of the classroom. The author, a mid-life career switcher, compares it with watching a carpenter for a while and then being expected to jump in and do the work of a carpenter.

Teaching is never easy. Good teachers go unrewarded. In addition, there is an adversarial "out to get you" atmosphere in many schools. The reader desiring a book with a happy ending will not find it here. However, he or she will find a lucid, personalized analysis of what ails our urban schools.

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