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Owens took quite a pay cut when, determined to make a difference in the lives of children, he left a high-level publishing job to teach English at a public school in New York's South Bronx. His dreams were quickly dashed after he began working at "Latinate," his fictional name for the school. He was shocked to discover a cultural climate focused on appearances rather than lasting results, instead of an infrastructure designed to support and encourage learning. He expected distracted and disruptive students, but found that there was little to no backup from the rest of the school when it came to discipline. He also wasn't prepared for an insane principal more obsessed with spreadsheets than students, in addition to racially biased tests and the public school system's notorious lack of funding. Admirably, Owens portrays himself as an enthusiastic teacher with good intentions rather than a martyr-no small feat given the subject matter. His inclusion of case studies in the form of anecdotes from other public school teacher furthers his argument. To say that Owens's book makes for a disheartening read is an understatement (though some of the villains get their due in the epilogue), but it will be useful for anyone considering a teaching career. Agent: Nena Madonia, Dupree/Miller & Associates. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Owens' book began as an article on Salon.com, documenting his first and last year teaching literature in a high-needs South Bronx public school. It went viral, and the outpouring of affirmation inspired Owens to tell his full story. A publishing executive turned high-school teacher, he delivers an intelligent, readable, and occasionally eye-opening analysis of the deep flaws in today's educational system, now driven by massive amounts of easily manipulated statistics, inadequate and poorly allocated financing, and administrators charged with meeting virtually impossible top-down demands. Owens was soon labeled a bad teacher by his principal (who is portrayed as having crazy boss syndrome on steroids) for not conforming to restrictive, often ridiculous protocols and failing to meet unrealistic expectations. Owens' narrative is punctuated with the voices of teachers from across the country who echo his plight and expose the absurdity of relying on data-driven business principles to try to fix American education. The true solution, says Owens, is a massive system overhaul, involving core reforms that embrace and support teachers in honing their craft to benefit students.--Saper, Carolyn Copyright 2010 Booklist
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Although this book's title gave this reviewer much angst, after the first chapter, it was clear that Owens was not a bad teacher. However, the same cannot be said about the principal and the working conditions that the author endured over the course of his short career as a teacher. Highlights from his tour of duty include the tyranny of the school's principal, the wide range of ability of his teacher colleagues, the gut-wrenching realities of students' lives, the lack of leadership, school policies that do little to meet students' needs, much less foster learning, and reflections about what he did not learn about classroom management from his college courses. Owens also provides the reader with insights into how high school has changed, his frustration trying to fulfill his district's expectations, how justifiable decisions placed him at odds with administrators, the limitations of teacher assessment systems, and the unfortunate truths about cheating in today's high schools. His story exposes many of the nightmares that public school teachers encounter. However, Owens develops a positive discussion about what he learned and how everyone can help. The language is rough in this challenging, emotional read, but Owens's passion for meaningful reform is real. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; undergraduate students and above. K. Layton University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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Owens changed careers at midlife to follow his heart and become a teacher. It took him less than one year in a South Bronx high school to be branded as "unsatisfactory" by the "crazed" and "delusional" principal as well as other administrators of the "charter style" high school. Owens describes the teaching certification process as covering theoretical aspects of teaching, but once he was hired, he struggled with issues of hands-on classroom management. Owens purports that rather than providing support and mentoring, administrators offered empty buzzwords and window dressing and pasted over problems throughout the school. Between in-the-trenches accounts of his frustrating days, Owens includes bigger-picture comments on the "witch hunt" that holds teachers to immeasurable standards, the drawbacks of standardized testing, and the detrimental effects of poverty on learning. VERDICT While little "shocking truth" on education policy is offered here, Owens gives a readable, personal account of one man's experience in one school. The book concludes with chapters on "What I Learned" and "What We Can Do" as well as a select bibliography for readers interested in work reflective of the current thinking on the state of American schools in general.-Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.