The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Book Review: "The Landry News"

Andrew Clements writes some of my favorite children's books. When I come across a reluctant reader, I can usually get them to read Frindle all the way through.

I recently finished The Landry News, and felt as if it was written for me. When I was a kid, I found an old manual typewriter with cracking black tape, and beautiful round keys. I stood over it in the hot garage and banged out a newspaper with the help of my cousin. It was a piece of beauty. Distribution: 4. I worked my way up and eventually became Opinion Page editor for my college newspaper (distribution: 28,000 daily).

Clements book centers on a girl with my same passion. She can't resist the urge to publish -- no matter what trouble it brings. Like his other novels, we see moral growth as our heroine struggles with the ethical issues of distributing news and opinion.

But the character that scared me to death was her teacher. Clements sketches a caricature of the burned-out teacher. He was teacher of the year... a while back. He wants kids to take responsibility for their own education. All this manifests itself in a guy sitting at his desk the entire period, hiding behind his newspaper. Clements always exposes the beautiful, good core of each of his characters, but this guy made me worry over each of those days I "phoned it in" and cut corners. Makes me wonder which of the days my students will remember.


I know you. and you. and even you.

When I was in high school, I figured I had already had about 50 different teachers, and I thought that was pretty cool. Now on the other end of the chalkboard, I find myself counting students. Your average teacher has somewhere between 100 and 175 students each year. In a 30-year career, that's a lot of people. It has some unexpected consequences.

You run into kids at the store. I normally enjoy that. Except when I'm trying to dash to the grocery store for a few quick items and I don't look me best. I run into a student in the produce aisle while I'm wearing socks, sandals, shorts, and an undershirt with a hole in one armpit. They want to introduce me to their parents, tell their brother what I great teacher I am. As they walk away they tell me they saw their reading teacher by the dairy section. Great. I'll head toward frozen foods.

How does a teacher name their own children? Even the best name conjures memories of slackers, skippers, attitudes, or vomitting. Each honor student shares his or her name with at least one d-hall of famer. It's tough.

Then there are people who remind you of your students. We're watching my wife's favorite reality show and one of the contestants is a dead-ringer for one of last year's last favorite students. The whining voice is a perfect match. The whining, the crying, the manipulation that are a vital part of any reality show bring flashbacks of trying to teach math against an onslaught of griping and eye rolling. My wife's favorite show. Dare I explain why I leave the room whenever it starts?