Book Snap #121

Title: It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching

Author: Tom Rademacher

Date Read: January 13, 2023

Two snaps.

Snapshot of the book

Teaching is a career that suits me– I love the creativity required to plan lessons; I love working with kids, talking to them, helping them, laughing with them; I love the unpredictability of days. I love it. But, it certainly is not easy.

It’s a tough paradox to explain to new teachers: Rademacher offers this: “Crappy job, great career.” (42) He divides up his ‘love-letter’ into five parts: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer, Again. There is a cyclical and predicatable cadence to a school year and his book imitates that pattern. It begins in Summer, where he sets up how we prepare mentally and physically for a school year. This section also offers interview tips, as well as how to get along with the grown ups in your school (great advice!)

Fall offers warnings on how to start with kids: from being careful about how we talk about them and with them; and many personal stories to illustrate the importance of understanding the difference between fear and control in a classroom. It is a true skill to find the balance between controlling an environment full of kids and being friends with them. He writes: “It makes sense when you feel like things are going wrong to resort to fear and anger, but the problem isn’t that you yell at a kid now: the problem is that in ten years you’re going to be really good at it” (p.88). Trust me, that’s not anything you want to be good at. Teaching requires conflict: we have to push kids to try hard things, we need them to test their boundaries, to do things that they don’t always want to do– that comes with being somewhere in the middle: “What you really want as a teacher is for students to respect you, and real respect doesn’t come from who yells the loudest or who sits backwards in a chair and talks about how all other teachers are lame. Respect comes less from anything you will say, and more from how often you listen, really listen, to your students. When you can tune your ear right, they’ll tell you exactly what they need from you.” (p.90)

The section entitled Winter takes up topics like how to work with technology (like the Internet!)– some teachers and schools want to create tech-free zones (something that is not a thing anywhere else in student’s lives) to protect the way they have always taught. Currently many teachers are worried about the capabilities of ChatGPT for the same reason. As a profession, we must be better than that. Our students deserve better too. We have to acknowledge the landscape and context we teach in. Rademacher offers his simple maxim: ” I’ve taken to instuting a new policy in the work involved in my classes. A policy, or a rule, or… I suppose most accurately, a question: Can Google do this?” (p.99). The Internet is a tool that students can access, like those pocket calculators we were warned about. If they have this tool, it is up to us, as teachers, to go deeper and connect to real world problems; not to be defensive that they have found the answers to our worksheets online. He also tackles white priviledge, terrible advice, and helping kids advocate for change.

Spring focuses on giving student voice and choice a place in the classroom; how to handle it when bad things happen; and fighting the urge to quit. He ends in SummerAgain, where he once again can see the value and joy in teaching: kids.

Rademacher may not be for everyone: he does swear, and he can feel a little full of himself at times: but I think he is pretty transparent and honest (refreshingly so) about who he is; the mistakes he has made, the success he has had, and the insights he has drawn in his decade as a teacher. For me, his advice would be some of the same I would offer a begining teacher after close to 25 years of doing it myself: remember that kids are humans– with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex: You are the adult in the room: do no harm and be kind. The learning will follow.

Snapshot of the book in my classroom/ my life

Rademacher includes a helpful quiz (albeit tongue in cheek). It made me laugh, but it also resonates. There are always times when a teacher does not feel like a great teacher. Heck, sometimes (especially during a pandemic) we may not even feel like a good teacher. It’s really easy to be pretty hard on yourself and think you are a terrible teacher.

Rademacher includes this diagnostic for teachers to determine if they are in fact terrible teachers. As a teacher mentor, I think I’ll keep a copy handy for self-assessment and reflection.

SO YOU THINK YOU’RE A TERRIBLE TEACHER: THE TEST

(Check all that apply. You can check more than one.)

CATEGORY ONE

__ I don’t care about teaching.

__I don’t care about students.

__ I like making people feel bad, especially young people.

__I’m thinking about going in to Administration.

CATEGORY TWO

__ I care about teaching.

__ I care about students.

__ I try hard.

__I mess up, then try to figure out why.

__I try to be interesting.

__I try not to let myself feel too important.

__I take breaks.

__I apologise.

__Sometimes, I wake up at three in the morning and I can’t go to sleep because I’m thinking about some awful thing I said or some hurtful thing a student said, and I think about what I could do the next day to make it better in some way.

__I have fun.

__I may carry grudges, but I try not to act like it.

__I know at least three decent jokes.

__I’m pretty smart.

__I will go see student performances, even if it’s choir or a musical.

__I do no harm.

__I do some harm, but I feel bad about it, and then try to fix it.

__I try to keep things relevant, even when they aren’t.

__I see school through students’ eyes sometimes.

__I reflect.

__I’m honest.

__I’m respectful.

__I’m trustful.

__I’m realistic.

So are you a terrible teacher? Tally up your score and find out.

CATEGORY ONE: If you have checked any items in this category, you suck. Go do something else. Okay, fine, if you only checked the fourth but not the other three, be an administrator. Whatever.

CATEGORY TWO: Did you check the first two? Great. You’re set. Three’s not bad either. The rest of the things will probably help but are wildly biased toward my own brand of teaching.

TEACHING IS JUST REALLY HARD. You are working as hard as you think you are. You are holding yourslef to an impossible and essential standard of success and you should keep doing that, but you should know that you’re successful on levels you don’t always see or know. Sometimes you will feel like you suck, and sometimes you legitimately will.

Do you care? You’ll be fine. Do you care a lot? You’ll probably be great. (p.93-94).

Book Snap #102

Title: Dare to Lead: Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work

Author: Brene Brown

Date Read: Daring Educator Faculty Book Club, May 2021

Two (very loud) snaps.

Brene Brown has been accompanying me on my walks, in my earbuds, via Spotify, within her two amazing podcasts, Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us. I have been thoroughly enjoying the interviews and conversations. This led me to apply for a grant and launch a faculty book study for #daringeducators. Myself and 28 colleagues read, discussed, and bonded over the reading and weekly work of Dare to Lead. It was exactly what I needed in May of this year. I am grateful for our shared experience, and the amazing co-workers who committed to it.

Divided into four parts: rumbling with vulnerablity; living into our values; braving trust; and learning to rise– Brown shares two decades of research and experiences inside hundreds of organizations, to give a practical, actionable book on what makes a daring leader.

She defines a leader as: “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential” (Brown, p.4).

The heart of daring leadership?

1. You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck.

2. Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead.

3. Courage is contagious. To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded.

Through the work, I defined my two values (she insists you must narrow down to only two) to: balance and learning. These are the values that define me. If I am at my best, I am learning and I am also in balance. These values also provide a filter to make hard decisions: am I leaning into my values? I lean into balancing work, play, and parenthood. When I must, I evoke Walt Whitman’s quote, to remind myself to lean into my value to learn: “Be curious, not judgemental.” Seen also in one of my favourite Ted Lasso clips, an Apple TV series that should not be missed. You want feel good entertainment? Ted Lasso is your man.

I’m ready to rumble (with vulnerability and courage), and so are my colleagues!

“Tell me more— what are you thinking?” and respect his truth as a full truth, not just an off version of my truth.” (Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.)

Book Snap #100

Title: Giving Students a Say: Smarter Assessment Practices to Empower and Engage

Author: Myron Dueck

Date Read: Spring 2021

Two snaps.

This was a professional read, obviously. It led me to enter Dueck’s Twitter contest by tweeting a photo of myself and Teddy with the book. We won!

Dueck skillfully delivers on topics that resonate with how I teach. Just as the title says: giving students a say is essential in empowering, engaging, and also in communicating student learning. I also strongly believe that in order to accurately report on a student’s learning, they must be a part of the conversation; they know how they learn; who they are, their strengths and areas for growth; and what they have learned: that’s essential information in student-centered pedagogy and essential insight into accurately assessing a student’s learning. It offers a necessary piece of triangulation evidence: conversations, amongst teacher observations and student generated products. Triangulation means using more than one method to collect data on the same topic. Giving students a say ensures the validity of the assessment: who knows more about their own learning than the learner?

Myron Dueck is also the author of Grading Smarter Not Harder which I also resonated with and loved. Dueck still teaches in British Columbia. He can be found on Twitter.

"If assessment means "to sit beside," we need to stop figuratively placing the learning outcomes on the table between us and our students, informing them of what's right and what's wrong, and instead slide our chair around to the same side of the table to facilitate a conversation. Assessment would then become a process by which we collectively strategize and codesign how we will best approach, evaluate, and report on the learning objectives. Students would ideally be able to demonstrate understanding over a period of time, drawing on examples and discussing challenges and what's been learned from these experiences. Just imagine the transformational potential if learning were to truly become a partnership between the teacher and the learner." (Dueck, Giving Students a Say). 

Book Snap #80


Title: Kids These Days: A Game Plan for (Re)Connecting with Those We Teach, Lead & Love

Author: Jodi Carrington PhD

Date Read: April 1, 2020

Two snaps.

This was a staff book club pick– and a real winner! When we came together (on Zoom) to discuss it — it had our unanimous praise.

If you have not heard of Dr. Jodi Carrington, you are in for a treat. Carrington hails from Alberta, bringing a classic Canadian-girl charm and warm kindness to her philosophy and approach to child psychology. A mom to her own three “babes”, Carrington proposes that the most integral step in helping kids who experience grief and trauma is to assist the people who hold them– their parents, educators, and counsellors.

She speaks with a humbling reverence for teachers and the challenging work they do in assisting all of the kids in their care. Above and beyond all else, she posits that it is connection that we all crave– and that many of the kids we serve are terribly disconnected. There was a time when families lived close to and with extended family. They weren’t so distracted and busy– there was connection. In fact, she writes: “… every time you hear yourself say, that kid is attention seeking or lying,” try to replace that phrase with, that kid is “connection seeking,” and see what happens” (p.63).

In teaching, in parenting, in coaching– in any capacity in which we look to help kids learn and become better at something; our job, first and foremost, must be to develop a relationship with the person we want to teach. Kids do not learn from people they think don’t like them. I have taught for over 20 years, and I know nothing to be more true. Teaching is about relationships. I think that is why online teaching during a pandemic is so difficult; we miss out on the face-to-face interactions that help us to form strong relationships. In fact, Carrington outlines five keys to (re)connecting with people in our life; and one of those keys is eye contact. She writes, “I talk to educators about doing this every day so they can connect with their students: Meet your students in the morning and greet them with their name and notice if they give you their eyes. The ones who do make contact easily concern me far less than the ones who don’t” (p.122). What I wouldn’t do to be in the hallway to check in with my students right now!

Another key to reconnection is to “get down on their level.” She says that meeting someone face to face is where the magic lies. I know this all too well from parenting. (Have you ever seen a mom kneeling in front of a toddler in the candy aisle? Turns out she knows her stuff. Been there. Done that.) She writes: “Being on the same level as the other person allows for easier access to their eyes. It slows you down too because you’re consciously thinking about creating an optimal environment.” She notes that fear based techniques certainly have their proponents and do garner some success in times of significant distress; you can threaten or inflict pain and likely get a response– but where do these approaches leave the relationship? Without a relationship, you cannot teach. And I love this, “When compliance from people we love or teach is predicated on what they stand to lose, they will never be motivated by respect. They will be motivated by fear. And fear is very different from respect” (28). You don’t learn to get better or to self-regulate when you are fearful of the person holding you.

When kids are dysregulated (or have “flipped their lids”) they are in a primitive state of fight, flight or freeze— and they need us, the adult, to offer them soothing connection. Carrington explains the Circle of Security, and our job as regualtor is: “Always be bigger, stronger, kinder and wiser. Whenever possible follow a need. Whenever necessary, take charge” (p.48). Which means, she says, “when your kid is losing their freaking mind, you need to dig deep into the core of yourself and figure it out with them” (p. 49).

Carrington describes so many of the kids we meet in our work: regular lid-flippers; Caillou kids; Flat Stanley kids; attention-seeking; manipulative liars (you need to read her book to get her great descriptions of each of them)… but, as she says, “these babes all have the exact same needs. How they pull for us to meet those needs makes all the difference” (p.71). Carrington is on the mark throughout this book. She spoke to me as a teacher, as a parent, and as a leader in my school. Carrington’s experience as a child psychologist allows her to build narratives around each of these kids, suggesting strategies to repair and rebuild relationships. You will see many of the kids you have taught, or coached, or cared for– and you will understand them better. And, hopefully, after reading her book, be in a better place to help them in the future.

She even seemed to narrow in on my own marriage. She explains that “[We] often tell people what to do, rather than showing them. We say to kids, “That’s not a good choice” or “Just calm down!” Here’s the thing: Never in the history of telling someone to “calm down” has “calm down” ever worked. Telling someone how to behave is never, ever, as powerful and transformative as showing them what you want from them. Think about the last time your partner told you to “Just calm down!” How effective was that? What was your response? The hope, when we yell or hiss “Calm down!” at someone we love is they will, indeed, calm down. The hope is they might even look at us and say, “Oh you’re right babe, I didn’t realize that I was losing my mind. You always know just how to get me to calm down. I’m just so glad that I married you” (p.29). If, like Carrington, you can agree that never in the history of my spouse telling me to “calm down” (or “relax!”) has “calm down” ever worked, then why do we keep trying to make it so, with everyone, including kids, all the time?

Really, Jodi says it best: “The kids are the least of our worries. Seriously. If that sounds blasphemous in a book for concerned parents and educators (and anyone, really, who worries about “kids these days”), then I am so glad you’re here. If you own a kid, work with a kid, or love a kid, you will find something inspiring in these pages” (XIX). She is not wrong. If you care about the kids these days… read Jodi Carrington’s book!

You can also find Jodi on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. She does great Facebook Live chats (usually over a glass of wine…) dropping the occasional f-bomb(which I also kind of love) as she wades through the weeds of raising, loving and connecting with kids.

Book Snap #54

Title: Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities

Author: John Warner

Date Read: July 10, 2019

Two Snaps

This title drew me in– it tackles a problem I have wrestled with myself as an English Language Arts teacher. Discussion of the book had a lot of traction on Twitter amongst many people in my personal learning network. I had to read it.

Warner, a college writing professor, posits that much of the writing we ask students to do are simply imitations of writing. Writing is a skill. It is also a process that allows us to think and to respond to the world at large. It is a struggle, and it is difficult. But, as Warner argues: “[We] should also operate under the assumption that every student needs to prepare for the long haul of life as a writer because in truth, these days, everyone is a writer” (139).

The crux of Warner’s thesis is that the greatest barriers in the way of building better student writers are systemic. These include ingrained practices like the misguided fixation on grades– which intensify poor student mental health, add intense stress, provoke anxiety and heighten depression; a panoptic surveillance of student academics and behaviour realized in unrealistic “real-time data” portals; the standardization of testing that favours memorization and regurgitation; educational fads and misuses of technology.

For so long, school has been about performance divorced from learning; so it’s difficult to find value in anything other than an A.

Warner. p.41

He offers a thorough examination of these and other disincentives that manufacture an unappealing atmosphere, a grind– a place where teenagers, especially, are bound to affirm, “school sucks.” Devoid of curiosity and engagement, personal autonomy and motivation… is it any wonder that students don’t risk and experiment to build their skill as writers?

Warner contends that writing makes us better and more contented humans. Through writing, we can develop a capacity for empathy. It is an essential skill for our students because it enables them to act with more personal agency. And so, he devotes the last half of the book to providing examples of valuable writing experiences and approaches to help writers develop their skill– while still tackling further systemic barriers in a new framework.

Like many of the writers tackling educational issues I care about, Warner maintains that grades are antithetical to learning. He had me at hello on that one. He further claims that they are also demotivating, unfair, and maddeningly imprecise. They fail to reflect what a student has actually learned and they incentivize cheating and plagiarism. He, likewise, advocates for grading practices that emphasize self-reflection and agency. I thank all of my colleagues in the English department who have conspired with me on our own journey tackling this very issue. I hope this book validates your hard work.

Moreover, writing is a process, not a product. It takes patience and time. Let’s take the time.

Students who feel accepted and empowered, who are given a voice in their community that is heard and respected, are more engaged with school, more committed to learning, and more giving of themselves to those they are surrounded by.

Warner, p.240

Read Warner’s essay: “Kill the 5 Paragraph Essay.”