I Want to Be Mike Rose When I Grow Up

Way back in the Fall of 2001* I took a class at Brooklyn College towards my Masters in English Education called Advanced Theories and Practice of Composition. It was taught by Jessica Siegel, a past high school teacher turned professor and journalist, and it was–if I dare say this into the cybersphere–the ONLY practical class on teaching/education that I have ever taken IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Wow. I feel like I was just at some sort of Teachers Anonymous Meeting for those of us who attended a School of Education that was supposed to teach us how to teach, but instead taught us…what?

But talk of teacher education programs is for another time.

In this class, we read about, talked about, and practiced the teaching of writing. I still have the Weekly Teaching Process Journal I had to keep throughout the semester  in which I collected my students’ work and had to respond to the following questions (which are listed on a Post It inside the notebook’s sea green glitter cover):

At the end of the week, think over the method(s) you used to teach writing:

To what extent was it successful?

What students did it work with?

What others did it NOT work with?

How could you change it or adapt it for the next time?

Anything said by the students?

As I re-read the students’ work and my reflections, I still find the journal helpful.  I feel like the names of the students from this semester–Alim Feda, Adewole Oduye, Krystal Gines, Juan Miranda, Darnell Wold, Erica Guiterriez–were my students yesterday. Again, teaching and parenting overlap. These were my “kids” at the time, and they are now 28 years old! And, like parenting, I feel like they were 16 yesterday and teaching me how to teach.

The days are long, but the years are short–both in teaching and parenting.

But the one thing that remains in my heart from this class is the book Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose. See, this was only my second year teaching, and it was my first year teaching high school. I was still wrestling–greatly–with the class and race differences between me and my students, trying desperately to put words to my experiences but falling short due to fear or personal confusion about what I was actually feeling, and this book was like reading the conflicts that were playing out in my own soul. Mike Rose, a working class kid, explores what it means to read, write, think, and teach poor students who are traditionally unprepared for academic work, especially when that was an experience similar to your own. I remember plowing through this book and feeling like I was a believer at some sort of education revival–I wanted to just scream out “Yes!” and “Amen!” and affirmative “Uh-huh!” while reading on the train. This guy is my voice, I thought. He gets it.

Our professor got us a phone conference call with them (yes, this was before Skype, etc.) and while I don’t remember what I asked him and I don’t remember anything he said exactly, I do remember getting off that call and thinking, “That is who I want to be when I grow up. That man is the type of educator I want to be.”

Still workin’ on it. It’s a lifelong goal.

Mike Rose was on the radio show “On Being” this week talking about work, education, the poor, school, testing, democracy. Take a listen. It’s worth the 51 minutes. Particularly about the balance of the practical and the academic and how we all are seeking a path that allows us to walk the line that connects the two. Again, “Yes!”

Mike Rose: Thank you for continuing to be a lighthouse for my sometimes seemingly peripatetic career.


*How can I post about the Fall of 2001 without a 9/11 reflection? I also took a Chaucer class that Fall. One of our classmates worked in the South Tower. She evacuated and was fine, but she left her copy of The Canterbury Tales, a giant hardback of the Tales written in Middle English, at her desk. Our next class meeting, she told us about evacuating and her lost book; she was bummed because the book cost $100+. We all chipped in and bought her a new copy. I wonder if she still has it…