The day has finally arrived! Learn Me Good the book is now available!!
If you like the blog, you'll love the book! Learn Me Good is the mostly true story of a design engineer-turned third-grade math teacher, and his experiences during his first year of teaching in a public school. This is truly my story. Nearly everything in this book actually happened to me at one time or another. I had a blast putting it all together, and I think that you'll have a blast reading it -- especially all you teachers out there, who can totally relate to these sorts of situations!
Learn Me Good can be ordered online at http://www.lulu.com/misterteacher
This book is not available in bookstores, so I can really use all of the word of mouth publicity I can get. If you like the book, and I really think you will, please tell all of your friends and colleagues about it. It's a grass roots effort, folks, but it's gotta start somewhere!
In order to (hopefully) whet your appetite to read more, I have posted below the opening chapter (e-mail) of the novel.
Date: Monday, August 18, 2003
To: Fred Bommerson
From: Jack Woodson
Subject: Opening Ceremonies
School is in session! No doubt, everyone will be pleased to learn that I am finally once again among the gainfully employed. And now that my first day as a teacher is done, I can officially send a status report to the Duke Alumni office for them to put in their next magazine. It will read as follows:
Jack M. Woodson (Engineering ’95) is currently
living and working in Dallas, TX. He has 40
children, and all of them have different mothers.
I know what you’re thinking – FORTY KIDS???!?? How do you have room for them all? And do you get paid on a per-child basis? Well, no. Let me explain the system to you. I teach two classes. Here in the Dallas Independent School District (motto: We hire our teachers in mid-August!), we partner teach. I teach math and science, while my partner teaches reading and social studies. So no, since I don’t teach language arts, we will not be reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Shining in class. It’s a shame, but sacrifices have to be made. However, mathematics-inspired books such as Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (with its valuable, real-world lessons on subtraction) are fair game.
Back to the system. I have a homeroom with eighteen kids. Each day, I will do my best to mold them into respectable citizens, learned scholars, and all-around math nerds from the time the bell rings until approximately 10:30. At that time, my partner and I will exchange classes, and I will repeat the morning’s work with her class. She, in turn, will spend the day instructing both classes on the ways of the written word.
My partner’s homeroom has seventeen kids in it right now. Eighteen and seventeen don’t quite add up to forty, I know, but I’ve used a little trick we in the third grade like to call “estimation.” It’s akin to what Larry does on his timecard. Work for thirty-five minutes, log an hour. Be sure to tell him hi for me.
I’m lucky to have a really cool partner. Her name is Kelly Swanson, and though she’s taught before, this is her first year in the third grade. She taught second grade previously, and from what I hear, she’s a great teacher. Her husband, Frank, had been in her third grade position last year, but this year he’s teaching first grade. They both seem like my kind of people. At least neither has any readily apparent ear fungus or reptilian traits, which, as you know, can be so distracting when meeting someone for the first time.
There are seven third-grade classes here; it’s a rather large school. As such, my section of the grade is 3E and Kelly’s (my other class) is 3F. I am the only man on the team. No, before you ask, they’re all spoken for. It’s a pretty good team, I think. Because of the odd number, there is one self-contained class (no partner), but the rest of us are paired up. This means there is a math subset of the team, which is really quite a blessing because we can plan our lessons together. I’ll be working with Mrs. Bird and Mrs. Fitzgerald, who have both been teaching for a number of years. It’s always good to have someone with experience showing you the way, right? Wait, wasn’t Tom Winter your mentor when you started? Oops. Sorry.
Ok, now that I’ve given you enough generic information, let’s get to a few things that happened on my first day. After a restless night, I arrived at the school at 6:45. This will NOT be a daily recurrence. Even though DISD’s “summer dress code” allows for golf shirts, I opted to dress very professionally and wear a long-sleeve shirt and tie. I figured I ought to make a good impression on the first day. So no hockey mask or red tights.
Shortly before school started, I saw a couple of kids that I recognized from my class lists. Carlos in 3E and Juan in 3F are best friends, and they were waiting with Juan’s mother. Juan’s brother was in the fourth-grade class I student-taught last year, and his mother was hoping that I would be Juan’s teacher as well. She speaks limited English, and Juan is the shy type, so Carlos translated for her. She was upset because Juan was not going to be in my class, he was in “Miss Kelly’s” class. I explained to her, through Carlos, the partner teach system and how Juan wasn’t in my homeroom, but that he would still be in my class. Hopefully Juan will be more motivated than his brother, whose greatest feat last year was crafting the simile, “My room smell like pee-pee.”
When the bell rang, I was standing at attention at my doorway. The third grade classrooms are in portable buildings out behind the school, and I guess it took a while for the kids to find their way back there, as GPS navigation systems were not included on this year’s list of school supplies. After a while, the kids started filtering in slowly, most of them being accompanied by at least one parent. One boy’s father approached me with a twenty-dollar bill in hand, and for a second there, I thought I was going to receive my first bribe. “I know they’re just coloring today, but an A would be appreciated,” as he surreptitiously palms the money to me. But of course it wasn’t a pay-off, it was for a set of school supplies, so I directed him to the office.
Another little boy, Alex, came in with both mother and father, and once he was seated at a desk, his father asked if he could videotape his son. He had a little hand-held camera, and he shot a couple of minutes of his son hard at work. This being the first day of class, the kids were perfectly behaved. I only hope Alex’s father has no reason to come back in two months to film “3rd Graders Gone Wild.”
I think that Alex’s father was happy that his son would have a male teacher. Several other parents made comments about that yesterday as well, along the lines of “My child has never had a man teacher before.” In most cases, I couldn’t really tell if they thought that was a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, I’m sure their child has also never had a three-headed Martian teacher with no ears.
The other teachers and I had put together little packets for the kids to work on while we spoke with the parents. These were really “profile” pages – name, age, favorite TV show, that sort of thing. There were also a few pages of very basic addition and subtraction problems, and then some coloring pages. One of these coloring sheets had detailed instructions on how to color it. “Color the flowers near the house blue.” “Color the roof black.” And so on. As I walked around the room, I saw several batches of red flowers near green-roofed houses.
As their new teacher, I wanted to make an impression on the kids, so after the parents left, I felt I should give a short motivational speech. Something to tell them how much I love math and science and how I want them to feel the love as well. A speech that would open the floodgates of their desire to be the best mathematicians and scientists they could possibly be. I combined the most rousing catch-lines from movies such as Mr. Holland’s Opus, Stand and Deliver, and Animal House. I even ended with a hearty “Hi-yo, Silver!” Some might have read the look in their eyes as dazed, confused, even frightened, but I know I touched some souls.
Well hey, today was a full day on hardly any sleep, and I am exhausted! I will write more soon and tell you about more of the kids.
Say hi to everyone there at dear ol’ Heat Pumps Unlimited for me. And tell them that I have a new credo in life now:
I teach, therefore I am. . . poor.
Talk to you later,