by Tracy Kidder
This is the nonfiction account of one year in a fifth grade classroom. The author chronicles Chris Zajac’s classroom from the beginning of the fall term until the end of the school year the following summer. Kidder writes of the problem children, those who rise above, those with difficult parents, etc.
Chris Zajac is a dedicated educator, a disciplinarian, a dream maker and a frustrated employee. She is not a miracle worker, but she is devoted to her students. The troubled students make it hard on everyone in the whole class and their presence is so draining on the teacher. Zajac and the other teachers in the school struggle between trying to reach those students and knowing that they are making it harder for the other students to learn.
One thing I really learned from this book is that being a teacher is a hard and thankless job. There are too many students, not enough teachers, not enough time in the day, etc. A teacher’s job is never really done. At the end of the say they still have to grade papers and work on lesson plans. Even when that’s done, good teachers are often still worrying about their students. I don’t have the patience for such a difficult job, but I have endless admiration for those who do.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’ve ever wondered what the life of a teacher might be like, this is the perfect way to find out. It’s a hard life, one that’s not often rewarding in the short term. Kidder’s profile is well done and I will definitely be checking out more of his work.
“She couldn't sort out her thoughts until she had turned them loose into the air.”
“You got to be realistic. If you want to dream, okay. If it comes true, it comes true. Beautiful. But tomorrow you got to go to work. That’s reality.”
“Some kids don’t know they want to learn until you put it in their heads that they do.”
“Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together, and it is made of people who can never fully know the good that they have done.”
Pair with a viewing of “Won’t Back Down” and “Waiting for Superman.” The first is a movie starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal and tells the story of two parents who strive to fix the broken school system where their kids attend school. The second is a 2010 documentary chronicling the flaws in America’s education system.