An affecting (long-exposure) snapshot revealing real-life concerns.

SUBSTITUTE

GOING TO SCHOOL WITH A THOUSAND KIDS

The eminent Maine-based author chronicles his lively, maddening month substitute teaching in the local public schools.

An award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, Baker (Traveling Sprinkler, 2013, etc.) subbed mostly in the public schools of Lasswell, Maine, near his home over the course of 28 days scattered between March and June 2014. Reading this day-by-day record—the author substitute taught for classes ranging from first grade to special-education high school math—readers will be struck by how arduous it is simply to fill such long days for the young students. Baker’s “training” was mostly a brief course in learning “codes of cooperation” and Common Core standards, abbreviations for learning disabilities, and clues how to control a class (he did not require a special degree for substitute teaching). He had to pay $50 for a criminal background check and fingerprinting and would earn $70 per day subbing, boosted by $5 for taking the initial training course. His book is literally a record of those 28 days, with verbatim conversations (we assume—did he record them? Or re-create them from notes?) that make for an amusing, spontaneous-feeling narrative, from which readers derive a sense of what it was truly like in the classrooms teeming with rowdy, diverse students. Getting the high schoolers to focus—turn off their electronic devices and quit chatting—was the biggest challenge for the older classes, while the younger pupils often moved from one non sequitur to the next. Baker was able to enlist his strengths as a writer to great effect, but he hated the noise level in the classes and the requirements to follow senseless make-work plans that bludgeoned the students’ creativity and spontaneity. Ultimately, the author’s chronicle is insightful but overly long and occasionally repetitive—indeed, Baker has left a record of what filling up days in school actually looks like.

An affecting (long-exposure) snapshot revealing real-life concerns.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16098-1

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Moving and motivating—a must-read for practicing professionals and would-be musicians.

STRINGS ATTACHED

ONE TOUGH TEACHER AND THE GIFT OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Inspirational lessons from the life of one tough teacher.

Today’s parents who lament their children stressing over tests may be horrified by the themes of tough love and tenacity offered by this biographical tribute to the late Jerry Kupchynsky, “Mr. K,” a gifted high school strings teacher from East Brunswick, N.J., whose exacting methods helped spawn the careers of generations of musicians and educators. Journalist Lipman and Kupchynsky, a violinist and Mr. K’s daughter, met as children when Mr. K joined his daughter’s exceptional talents on violin with Lipman’s on viola to form half of a string quartet that would also include Kupchynsky’s younger sister, whose disappearance decades later reunited the authors. The bond forged through the intensity of creating music is but one of the storylines running through this engrossing account of Mr. K’s life. Born in 1928 in the Ukraine, Mr. K endured a litany of wartime atrocities before immigrating to the United States as a refugee in 1946. But prior to fleeing to the U.S., it was the sound of a German soldier playing the violin that sparked his love for classical music. Surviving these early hardships helped instill in Mr. K an appreciation of adversity as a motivator, an unflagging belief in the value of hard work and a willingness to fight for the underdog. With a booming Ukrainian accent and “trim” mustache, Mr. K’s battle-ax demeanor and perfectionist drive struck both fear and a ferocious desire to succeed in the hearts of his pupils. One of his more unforgiving approaches involved singling out a section’s weakest player—“Who eez deaf in first violins?”—and forcing the guilty party to play alone with a stronger player until the weak one improved. While tactics like these may not have earned his students’ immediate devotion, they never forgot him and often found they could achieve more than they ever dreamed.

Moving and motivating—a must-read for practicing professionals and would-be musicians.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2466-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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An ambitiously original but uncorroborated theory.

PSYCHOCONDUCTION

A sweeping new theory that puts forward a way to rejuvenate a damaged brain without using surgical or pharmacological methods. 

Clinical psychologist Litvin (Litvin’s Code, 2011) proposes what he calls a bold “new neuropsychological discovery” about ways in which a chronically underperforming brain may be improved with carefully managed mental exercises. According to the author, the brain processes information via an internal mapping system, in which received data is directed to a “book of addresses.” When the brain malfunctions, he says, it’s largely the result of damaged complex brain cells receiving “incomplete or distorted requests,” which results in the improper distribution of information. However, he asserts that the brain has a kind of organic plasticity that allows it to respond to willfully enacted repairs. Litvin argues that simple cells in the body can be stimulated in a way that either rejuvenates or replace damaged complex cells; this stimulation can overcome what he calls “neuropsychological barriers” and result in the release of a newly “balanced amount of brain chemicals”—a vague formulation that typifies the author’s overall mode of discussion. This is achieved, he says, by activating the brain’s response to various stimuli in quick succession, including tactile, visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and olfactory stimuli. Litvin calls this theory of repair “psychoconduction,” and he includes a detailed series of mental exercises that ask readers to translate simple mathematical equations into various modes of expression; for example, he shows how a visual pattern may be translated into a knocking sound, or a clamping of a hand. Litvin has discussed psychoconduction in a number of other works, but here, he furnishes his most thorough and systematic explanation of it, largely in accessible, nontechnical language. However, this volume also replicates the principal vices of the others: It’s remarkably general, and it doesn’t present any empirical, experimental evidence for its claims. Also, Litvin’s promises regarding the scope of its application are equally unsubstantiated, as well as implausible; he claims, for example, that the exercises can remedy dyslexia, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, anger issues, and even help people who have hallucinations. It’s never clear how it’s all possible, and the author offers no solid proof. 

An ambitiously original but uncorroborated theory. 

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4669-1254-0

Page Count: 129

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2019

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