Eric Mandel found himself in front of a California high school classroom with no teaching credentials or experience and lived to tell the tell... with wit, sincere concern for students and some insight into the world of education.
This excerpt from The Accidental Teacher will give you a glimpse into this humorous look at education from an outsider's perspective.
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excerpted from The Accidental Teacher
- Thursday - September 20
- Yesterday was intense. I arrived at school before 8:00 and didn’t get home till after 9:30, Back to School Night and all. It turns out Mel Interrupted did not in fact run away with some guy, worse––she’s in some psyche ward. Mel is probably the brightest and definitely the most disturbed of all my students, and I really am pulling for her. More bad news––Jesus, an impish Hispanic senior who, with a sparkle in his eyes, enjoyed plying me with questions like, "Mr. Mandel, so do you do weed or acid? Come on, you can tell me!" was suspended for ten days, and now the school, unbeknownst to Jesus, is in the process of expelling him. Seems that sparkle in Jesus’ eyes was not solely the result of the joy he derived from sitting in my class. At this time all I know is that Jesus was busted for marijuana. I will find out more details tomorrow when I attend his expulsion hearing.
- On the way to school yesterday I decided to ditch my scheduled lesson and attempt instead to hook the kids with something I know really interests them––rap music. They all seem to have strong opinions about rap: love it or hate it. I can’t count the times they’ve complained about the poems I subject them to (read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac) as they go on and on about that great American poet, Tupac. So with all this in mind, I drop Of Mice and Men for my juniors and a dry Colette short story for my seniors, and instead have them listen to a seven minute NPR story about the current Kanye West/50 Cent feud.
- I follow the story with a short class discussion and then I go over some really basic essay rules such as: don’t use cuz or cause in place of because, or street language such as sucks and ***hole when writing an essay. Oh, and always capitalize i and don’t repeat the same thing over and over in different ways just to reach the required two paragraphs.
- I gave the following example of how not to write, i hate Bush cuz hes a jerk. I relly don’t like him. What an ***hole. Most of them were eager to start, so I turned them loose. Off they went writing about one of two topics: Who I like more, 50 Cent or Kanye West and why? For the rap haters, I offered the alternative: Why I don’t like either of them. Most wrote way more than required. There was lots of debate and arguing going on during the writing. Many of my students have a patience problem when it comes to expressing their thoughts and ideas––when an idea hits it circumvents the brain’s edit lobe and spews uncensored from the mouth or pen, which may or may not be a good thing. On the whole this was by far my most successful lesson.
- While I was teaching First Block, my best-behaved class, with Kanye’s new album playing softly in the background, my evaluator/boss Carol showed up unannounced sat down at the aide’s desk and began observing me. Deadpan and stoic, Ms. Havisham sat quietly taking notes on a clipboard for twenty minutes. Great timing. Lucky for me the boss showed up during my most creative and appealing lesson. Considering I had been teaching for only a month, I thought I did a great job with the kids; most important, however, will be Carol’s perceptions. Her initial observation could become the defining moment in our relationship. And by the way, as I collected the essays a quick glance caught this gem of a topic sentence, I hate 50 Cent, he is a real bastard.
- What the hell, I had a good time.
- Back to School Night
Other than making for an incredibly long day, it turned out well. Met interesting parents of interesting kids. Jeremy showed up with his mom and dad. Jeremy was quiet, well, relatively speaking; he definitely takes after his mom. His dad is a macho construction worker type. Both Jeremy’s parents emphasized I should call anytime Jeremy acts up. I replied,
- “Are you sure? If so you might want to be near a phone every other school day between 1:20 and
- They laughed.
- Gina came with her mom and her little brother Giuseppe. Not sure where to begin or end. When Gina’s mom started saying nice things about her daughter, Gina looked at her mom with disdain and told her to shut up. As Gina and family exited, Melissa entered smiling brightly with both parents in tow. Melissa is a talkative, opinionated, energetic junior with a mouthful of chrome. Earlier in the day she had begged me not to mention to her parents any of the stuff that she gleefully boasts about in class, like the time I asked about their weekends and Melissa bragged about staying out until three in the morning partying when the whole time her parents thought their little girl was upstairs sleeping like a baby. While Melissa squirmed nervously next to her parents, I kept her on pins and needles but said nothing about our secret. I figure her secrets are more useful to me for now if they remain secret.
- I felt a little uneasy just before parents and students arrived when it suddenly dawned on me that I still didn’t know all my students by name. I worried I might inadvertently call some kid by another kid’s name. Thankfully that never happened, although just in case, whenever I had any doubt I avoided using names altogether. One couple came without a kid and introduced themselves as Rick Steele’s parents. At that moment the only Rick I could think of was the gun-obsessed, obnoxious, opinionated redheaded Rick––the Rick who had taken it upon himself to become the arbitrator of justice in my class, continually calling me out for not being fair to other students. So when the Steeles asked how Rick was doing I replied judiciously,
- “He’s doing fine in class. Rick seems to have no trouble sharing his opinions on just about
- anything with anybody who’ll listen.”
- Dad gave me a puzzled look and replied,
- “That’s great. Generally Rick doesn’t say a word in class.”
- Immediately I sensed a problem; however I stayed the course. As soon as the Steeles left I checked my seating charts and realized that their Rick had in fact not uttered a single syllable this semester. Oh what the hell, for the time being Mr. and Mrs. Steele are going to be thrilled their reticent son is coming out of his shell.
Want to learn more about Eric Mandel and The Accidental Teacher? Check out his website: http://www.theaccidentalteacher.net or get the The Accidental Teacher now!
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