Worst books of 2011: #4 The Classroom CEO

#4: The Classroom CEO by Deborah Pritchard

I received this book as a gift, and it made me both wary and hopeful. I was wary because the title seemed to compare a classroom or a school to a business, and I don’t usually like the politics behind that comparison. Students are people, not products. I was also hopeful because a CEO is an image of someone who’s very much in charge. Some of my worst moments as a teacher have been when I was not in charge. A book that can help me to take charge in the classroom would be a great book.

When I read books to help me with my teaching, I want to learn new things and use my time well. Sadly, there was absolutely nothing new in this book, nothing I hadn’t already heard in my short teacher training or MAT classes. So much of what it did say was vague, too. That’s my other pet peeve in books on teaching. Don’t just tell me to build positive relationships with my students. My response to that is: duh. Instead, tell me what that looks like. Tell me what specific actions I can perform that will result in positive relationships.

In short, don’t waste my time.

Maybe I’m unique among teachers in that learning about new teaching methods and strategies is not very interesting to me. I like teaching because I like my students and I like my content. Maybe I feel this way about methods and strategies for teaching because they seem so logical to me. It’s not rocket science, and making it more complicated than it has to be just makes teachers feel overworked and pressured. Maybe I only have this attitude because I’ve been exposed to so much time-wasting disguised as required professional development (yes, I’ve only been teaching 2 1/2 years and I’m already that cynical about PD).

Because of my disinterest in learning about how to teach, and because I arrogantly and ignorantly thought I could “do better” than teaching, I avoided taking education classes as long as I possibly could, and I’m glad I did. If I had majored in education at Centre, it would have been the greatest waste of an opportunity to learn from masters in my disciplines. It would have dumbed a liberal arts education down into narrow job training. Studies have shown that at the high school level, teacher expertise and communication skills matter more than how many education classes a teacher has taken. (If you don’t believe me, I remember reading that in this book.)

Even though it’s not my favorite topic, I still read books about teaching because it’s my responsibility to continually improve. I read this book because my mom sweetly gave it to me, signed by the author, who she met through her job at the library. A nice idea, and nice intentions, but pretty empty in the end.

Some examples of good books about teaching that satisfy my desire for new information and specific recommendations:

Teach Like a Champion describes in detail 49 specific things that good teachers do. Most of these things are intimidatingly hard to do, and I think it’s probably impossible to do them all in any one classroom, but it’s useful to name some of the things that good teachers are doing. Now that I’ve read the book, I know about these specific strategies that I can decide to try anytime I think they fit my lesson.

Young, Gifted and Black describes how stereotype threat is one of the main reasons why some African-American students do not achieve excellent levels of performance, and outlines a three-part plan to reduce stereotype threat in any particular classroom.

I hope that gives you a clear idea of what I’m looking for when I read about teaching. Any teaching books I review on this blog will be judged according to these criteria: Have I heard this before? Is it specific and actionable? Can I use this in my classroom tomorrow?


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