My principal gave me this book a few weeks before winter break and told me to read it if I got the chance. Unlike the Fish! book about improving morale, he wasn’t going to make Unshakeable by Angela Watson a school-wide book study. However, he’d liked it enough that he’d gone ahead and ordered a copy for every teacher in the building to read (or not read) at their leisure.
Although I am always a bit wary of books about education, I decided to go ahead and commit to reading it. I know it probably sounds odd for a teacher to say she’s wary of books about her profession. I mean, shouldn’t books about how to improve as a teacher be very important to my growth and development as a teacher?
In my experiences, I’ve found that they can be at times. But so often educational tomes are written by elementary teachers and while the advice and strategies offered are no doubt wonderful for elementary teachers, they have very little carry over into the secondary world.
I’m glad to say that Unshakeable did a better job of meeting my expectations than many education books do. While a large portion of the advice is definitely geared at elementary teachers, there are some gems in here for secondary teachers as well. Many of those gems I am already incorporating into my teaching, so it’s nice to see someone else confirm what I already believe to be best practice. Like Watson, I feel it is very important to be genuine with my students. I think they need to see the real me and know that I am not putting on some sort of educational three-ring circus in my class. I use humor and anecdotes about my life to connect to my kids. I respond to their journals and ask questions about their lives and interests and most share them with me. I take the time to get to know at least one important bit of information about every student I teach and that is hard considering I have nearly 150 students this year. But it’s important and I think it matters to my students, so I do it.
While I definitely appreciate her enthusiasm and some of her ideas, I do still see a huge elementary influence in this book. One of her early suggestions is to take time to call each parent to introduce yourself as a teacher and mention one positive note about their child. She suggests doing this in the first week or two of school. This is an awesome idea…if you have a class of 20-30 kids. She mentions that it took about an hour of her life and it was worth it. I don’t doubt it was. However, there is no conceivable way for me to do this for 150 students, especially since in the first week or two I’ve only spent a few hours with them and don’t know them (or their habits) very well yet.
I think her idea of having family festival nights or of having parents drop by the classroom before school starts is a great one, but again, with 150 students there is no physical way I could host these kind of events. The same is true of her idea to be outside the classroom and greet each student indvidually. This is a great practice and I try to do it as often as possible, however, my classes are 85 minutes long with five minute passing periods. Those passing periods are the only time I get to go to the bathroom, so as much as I’d love to stand outside my room and engage each one of my students, that’s not possible. I usually barely make it back to my room before the bell rings.
There is definitely merit in a lot of Watson writes and so much of her book is about having the right attitude while teaching, which is essential to loving the job. I just wish more secondary teachers would write these types of books because the difference between being an elementary teacher and a high school teacher is almost like the difference between being a lawyer and a judge. Yes, our jobs center on the same ideas and basic principles, but our roles and the way we apply those ideas and principles are so very different.