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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Why Did I Get a B? (And Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge)”

One of the lessons I hope we learn from the coronavirus is to not take people for granted. Especially people like teachers. We all have teachers we remember fondly and perhaps one or two we do not. With so many parents suddenly thrust into the role of formal educator and all that comes with it, this seemed like an appropriate time to review ìWhy Did I Get a B? (And Other Mysteries Weíre Discussing in the Faculty Lounge)î by veteran teacher Shannon Reed.Reed grew up with people asking whether she would follow in her paternal family footsteps to become a pastor, or take the maternal family path and be an educator. She never felt the calling to become a pastor, saying, ìI could almost hear God saying, ëThanks, but pass.íî But she also had no desire to teach, so she followed her heart into a theatre degree. Starving artists have to eat, however, and she wound up being the opener at a preschool and day care in her fatherís church. Despite the uncomfortable nepotism, the job gave her the opportunity to discover that ìpreschoolers are my jam.î She went on to become a preschool teacher, taught different grades as she worked her way up the K-12 ladder, and eventually became a full-fledged college professor.Not bad for someone who didnít want to be a teacher!Reedís story unfolds through carefully selected personal essays that even non-teachers can relate to. She glows about ìthe best school I taught atî ñ- a Catholic girls school in Rockaway that was 90 minutes from her Brooklyn apartment via train and on foot. Low pay and the long commute eventually drove her to accept a nightmarish position at a South Brooklyn theater-based public high school where the kids were tough and the administration was less than helpful. Reed found the unruly, loud, aggressive teenagers, with their vulgar slang and barely decent attire, to be the polar opposite of the well-behaved, uniformed female cadre at her previous school. Reed came close to quitting on her first day but decided to stick it out. ìI wanted to teach all of the kids at the school, but to especially connect with those smart, nerdy, dramatic, hardworking, quiet kids Ö no matter what color their skin was.îReed does not shy away from discussing the discomforts of confronting her own internal prejudices and recognizing those same tendencies in others. She describes how she and her students learned to ìenjoy the give-and-take of living next to one another. I gave them Gene Kellyís performance of ëSinginí in the Rain.í They gave me Nicki Minajís verse on ëMonster.íîShe says, ìÖ To be a good teacher is to care very much about people, which is an effective way to get thoroughly heartbroken on the regular.î One such example from the theater school is an out-of-control student who thrived on confrontation and crossing boundaries. Instead of receiving the mental health care and special education he needed, the kid was shuffled from class to class by ineffective administrators and regularly escorted out of class by security guards. The student was eventually sent to be someone elseís problem at another school. Reed sees it as a personal failure that she never could find anything to love about him.Although ìWhy Did I Get a B?í is Reedís personal story,î she interjects plenty of humor to illustrate just what it means to be an educator. Pieces with titles like ìMiddle School Parent-Teacher Conference Night, in Internet Headlinesî and ìIf Bruce Springsteen Wrote about Adjunctsî will resonate with readers and maybe even elicit an audible chuckle.Personally, I would have liked more of the ìYouíll never believe what this kid didî kinds of stories that teachers share with each other, or with close non-teacher friends over drinks. But thatís just me. Shannon Reed combines blunt honesty with wit and an authentic voice to create an enjoyable reading experience. With the exception of the chapter about the problematic teen and a minor foray into a political statement near the end, the language in the book is pretty clean. Whether you are a teacher, a parent-unexpectedly-turned-home schooler; or you count teachers among your circle of family and friends, Reedís stories should stoke your appreciation for those often under-appreciated souls toiling in the trenches of education.

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