An instructive, inspirational debut memoir that recounts a teacher’s lifelong efforts to educate troubled students.
When Golubtchik became principal of a floundering New York inner-city school, he didn’t have the professional experience he needed to prepare him for the job. He’d been a longtime teacher and administrator, but Last Chance High School was a destination for “severely emotionally disturbed” students, cynically labeled “throwaway kids.” He quickly learned that the educational environment was crippled by an unwieldy bureaucracy that wasn’t creative or nimble enough to respond to its students’ challenging needs. Before he could teach them basic skills, he had to confront the stark reality of their broken homes and fractured hopes. The anecdotes can often be despairing: The administration struggled with students smuggling weapons into school and the constant threat of sudden violence; local bodegas sold alcohol to underage students not for profit, but out of fear of retribution; and students complained of hunger, abuse and abandonment. Golubtchik came to realize that no set of minor revisions would improve the school’s educational outcomes; its whole culture needed systemic rehabilitation. He bases much of this book on psychiatrist William Glasser’s “choice theory” and looks at the proper “internal motivations” that may help even the most troubled students to succeed. Overall, this work is a pastiche of personal stories, educational theories and student profiles; one chapter, “Letters from the Trenches,” shares dispiriting but refreshingly candid appraisals of the school before Golubtchik took the helm. Although it often reads like a memoir, it also has elements of a policy wonk’s white paper, along with philosophical reflections on the human condition. The prose is sometimes a bit rough (one chapter subdivision, for example, is titled “He Cursed My Mother So I Hit Him”), but the personal stories are clear and compelling, and the advice on how to improve the educational outcomes of at-risk youth is courageous and profound.
An engaging look at the values that represent the best chance for the future of education in America.