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Book Review: Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching (Part I)

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Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robin R. Jackson is the book that has been assigned to our faculty to read.  Normally, I would look at the books with disdain as there really does not seem to be enough hours in the day, but the title of this one has me hooked.

Last year, I felt as if I worked harder than ever before and my students performed at the lowest levels I’ve seen since my teaching career.  I feel like this book may possess the secret to solve all my problems!

One thing I like about this book is that it is interactive.  By that I mean that there was a quiz in the introduction to determine what type of teacher you are and the chapters have sections titled “Try This” where you stop and reflect on what you just read.

Chapter One – Start Where Your Students Are

This chapter is focused on getting to know your students.  Not only in the sense of favorites or family life, but getting to know what their values are and what particular traits they have.  Jackson writes about teaching your students how to take a trait that may be negative and teach them how to use it in a good way.  I’ve seen this first hand, as students that may be very disruptive do a complete 180 once they have a specific role in the class.

Another takeaway from this chapter is the “Activity Bag”.  Students bring in 5 items that represent themselves and place it in a bag.  Throughout the month, randomly select a bag, go through its contents and see if the students can guess who it is.  Then the student comes up and explains why they chose the 5 items.  I feel this is a good way to help instill community in the classroom.

Chapter Two – Know Where Your Students Are Going

This chapter emphasizes focusing on the standards, similar to unwrapping the standards as mentioned in the book by Larry Ainsworth.  Last year I was very overwhelmed by unpacking the first nine weeks and never finished the year.  Reading this chapter has encouraged me to unpack one unit at a time.  That way, the task won’t seem as daunting. One interesting mention in this chapter is to lower your standards for students.  This struck me as odd initially because we want our students to reach for high expectations.  By setting the performance standards lower, students actually have a chance to reach above and beyond what is expected.  Of course, in order for students to excel beyond the given standard, they must KNOW what the standard is.

Chapter Three – Expect to Get Your Students There

This chapter has very little to do with teacher expectations of students and instead focuses on teacher expectations of ourselves.  Do we really believe that we can teach students and move them to proficiency despite their shortcomings.  Are we honest enough to realize the difficulties and weaknesses of our students.  This chapter reminded me of how I felt when my AP Environmental Science Students did not do so well on their test.  I actually wrote about it here.  I mentioned that I felt they should have excelled and that their background should not have influenced their performance based on how they did in my class.  An excerpt from the chapter that really spoke out to me…

Many teachers suffer from the same misplaced optimism.  The same false hope that comes from believing that they and their students will be successful without also confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.  We cannot hold onto high expectations for students without also considering the reality of who they are and what they are able to do.

Another important part of this chapter is the mention of not accepting failure in the classroom.  This reminded me of the NMS (not meeting standards) grading policy of our district.  There were many teachers in an uproar regarding the policy, but I favored slightly because it prompted discussion among teachers, students, and parents.  Parents and students were now concerned and asking about grades where before they would receive an F and accept it as if it was the normal grade to receive.


Written by Ashley Erin

August 15, 2011 at 5:00 am

Book Review: A Handbook for Teachers of African American Children

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While in grad school, my mentor suggested that I read a book entitled A Handbook for Teachers of African American Children by Baruti K. Kafele.  The suggestion came about after me revealing the many frustrations I had with teaching my students.  I purchased the book a while back, but never got a chance to really read it until now.  In this post, I will highlight some of the main points of each chapter along with my reflections.

I. The Missing Component – In this section, Kafele emphasizes that in order to properly teach African American children, one must throughoughly understand the culture and history in order to relate to the students.  By knowing this and also educating your students about their culture as well, students will gain a sense of purpose.  African history is the missing component of the education of our children.  I really like how Kafele points out that during slavery, one was not only stripped of physical freedom, but also enslaved the mind.  Majority of our students remain to be enslaved.  As a teacher of African American children, I can help my students succeed by freeing their mind to discover various possibilities.

While reading this chapter, I thought it would be a great idea to present an African American scientist or history in science to the students.  Facts learned throughout the week could be offered as extra credit.  I would also love to begin building a classroom library of books regarding African American history and scientists.  I saw a book in Barnes & Noble last month documenting the history of black people in Memphis.  I’m going to have to go and purchase it to be my first library addition.

II.  A Mindset for Teaching – This chapter begins with information regarding your purpose, mission, and vision for teaching.  Every school has such information so why not incorporate it into your classroom.  By determining your purpose, mission, and vision, you are setting the direction for your classroom.  Your purpose is a comprehensive statement of what you want your students to be able to achieve.  Your mission is to be aligned with your purpose and controls your reasoning for everything you do in the classroom.  Having a vision allows you to see where your students will be at the end of the year and also where you plan to be as a professional teacher.

This chapter also reviews the process of setting goals, and suggests that you even post them in your classroom in order to be accountable to your colleagues and students.  Finally, there is mention of modeling proper behavior as a professional, such as attire and using proper english.  The chapter ends with stating that one should perform daily reflection in order to grow and learn as a teacher.  Once the school year begins, I hope to use this blog to record my daily reflections.

After reading the first two chapters, the book got really boring to me.  The remaining chapters mentioned various topics that I feel every pre-service teacher experiences in a degree program.  For example, there is a chapter regarding differentiating your instruction, but not many tips are listed.  It just lists various methods of things such as cooperative grouping, brain-based learning, and so on. 

Overall I feel that this is a book that can be applied to all students and not just those of African-American students in particular.  I do not see any one factor of this book, besides that of relating to the culture of African-American students, that is a magic key to unlock the mysteries of the low achievement of my students. 

Written by Ashley Erin

June 16, 2010 at 11:54 am

Posted in Book Reviews