In this YA novel, a teacher starts off her career in a crowded urban high school that sometimes seems more interested in students’ test scores than their futures.
Like many young teachers, Lucy Bates is enthusiastic about what she’ll be teaching—art—and looking forward to her first job. She soon discovers that teaching students didn’t prepare her for the difficulties of managing them. They interrupt, fool around, don’t turn in homework, and often don’t seem to care. Many are dealing with serious matters outside of school: a relative in prison, high parental expectations, poverty, etc. One student is already a mother. In their own ways, several students do connect with Lucy’s teaching, yet the administration seems to care only about test scores, which have moved Fillmore from “a school in crisis to ‘a school to watch.’ ” An experienced teacher tells Lucy that tests and research “try to explain why we can’t do the impossible….Get every student to achieve the same thing at the same time,” especially since it seems like many students just come to school to see their friends. Despite the school’s insistence on standards, there are several hints of shady behavior by the administration, and although Lucy grows as a teacher, test scores have the final word. Delgado (Drivers’ Ed Is Dead, 2001), who has taught in high school and middle school, draws on her experience to provide well-rounded portraits of her varied characters and the challenges they face. Many are not what they seem; Sarah, for example, a sarcastic goth, thinks her Bible-thumping classmate Missy “would be very surprised to know how often Sarah thought about God.” Charlie Ray, whom most write off as a redneck, stands up for a gay classmate and likes to carve wood the way his grandfather did. The school’s testing focus and related shenanigans nicely mirror real-world happenings. Delgado’s writing could, at times, be more polished, especially since the book is intended for classroom use: “quipped” to mean “said,” “Miss” for a married woman, or “widow” for a bereaved man.
Realistic and sensitive about both students’ and teachers’ lives.