Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: Fires in the Bathroom

I recently read the book Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students which was edited by Kathleen Cushman and written with the help of the students in What Kids Can Do, Inc. I have to admit I put this book down after almost 100 pages and took a break from it. I was having a rough time with the students I was teaching and my attitude sucked. As such, every comment I read from the students was greeted in my mind by anger and resentment. Unnecessarily so.

The students who participated in writing this book were paid for their time and, for the most part, took the work seriously. Some had legitimate complaints, such as teachers who were teaching out of field and did not know the subject, or strings of inadequate substitutes. Several said that after attempting to learn in that environment they considered it waste of time and stopped going to that particular class.

Other discussions in the book centered on the need for consistency in attitude and discipline procedures from the teachers. The need for respect to be a two way street. The problems I had here was that the students seem to expect the teachers to treat them with the utmost of respect at all times no matter what the students do. While that goal is lofty, sometimes, it just isn’t in the picture. At least for me. There are times when students have just plain lost my respect. And, of course, vice versa.

When I went back to the book with fresh eyes, and a more pleasant rapport with a new semester’s group of students, I found I was not annoyed by their comments, but rather saw those comments as rawly honest. These students want to have good teachers. And that does mean teachers who never give homework or test easily. It means teachers who can and will teach them the subject matter they need to know in an environment where they can learn it. Even if it means the occasion, respectful, kick in the butt.

Overall, I would recommend this book, especially for beginning teachers. It is a good insight into the adolescents you will be teaching. For those who have been in the classroom a while, read it when you aren’t stressed out by the students you’re teaching. It gave me a few new ways to think about my students and what they are going through at this stage of their lives.

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