According to Ilana Garon, popular books and movies are inundated with the myth of the “hero teacher” — the one who charges headfirst into dysfunctional inner-city schools like a firefighter into an inferno, bringing the student victims to safety through a combination of charisma and innate righteousness. The students are then “saved” by the teacher’s idealism, empathy, and faith. This is not that type of book.
Here, Garon reveals the sometimes humorous, oftentimes frustrating, and occasionally horrifying truths that accompany the experience of teaching at a public high school in the Bronx. The overcrowded classrooms, lack of textbooks, and abundance of mice, cockroaches, and drugs weren’t the only challenges Garon faced during her first four years as a teacher. Every day, she’d interact with students dealing with addiction, miscarriages, stints in “juvie,” abusive relationships, and gang violence. These students brought with them big dreams and uncommon insight — and challenged everything Garon thought she knew about education.
In response, Garon — a naive, suburban girl with a curly ponytail, freckles, and Harry Potter glasses — opened her eyes, rolled up her sleeves, and learned to distinguish between mitigated failure and qualified success. In this book, Garon explains how she realized that being a new teacher was about trial by fire, making mistakes, learning from the very students she was teaching, and occasionally admitting that she may not have answers to their thought-provoking (and amusing) questions.