A teacher’s memoir of a meandering but deeply purposeful career.
Debut author Rose was at first despondent when she learned that she was losing her permanent teaching position at a public school where she’d helped to raise $325,000. Her consolation prize was a job as a “rotating substitute teacher” in the absent-teacher reserve, wandering from school to school; she was always the new teacher that none of the faculty knew and none of the students trusted. Instead of retiring, which she considered, she turned the job into a tour of New York City’s public school system, which she chronicles in this book. She devotes each chapter to a new assignment and describes teaching such subjects as American history, creative writing, and art. Along the way, she constantly interviewed for permanent positions and confronted the dysfunctional Department of Education bureaucracy, which seemed committed to making teaching and learning as difficult as possible. The author’s voice is punchy, comedic, and even whimsical—unsurprising for someone who stages one-woman off-Broadway shows in her spare time. She sometimes expresses her complaints about education in exasperated but lighthearted letters to the DOE: “You’re good with the mandates, right?...How ’bout mandating an explosion of Creative Encounters of the First Kind with our world-class New York City institutions? Couldn’t you give all our kids equal access to the arts?” Amid all the humor, she tells of plenty of heartbreak as well; during one class, for example, an otherwise reticent student revealed that he killed his stepfather at the age of 7. Despite the litany of challenges that Rose faced, though, her book never devolves into an unabashed lament. In fact, her recollection is a testament to the fact that, even under the most unpropitious circumstances, learning is possible under the tutelage of a talented, committed teacher.
A funny, inspiring remembrance of a life devoted to education.