“Maybe you have had the fantasy: Chuck your day job to teach in a public school in a blighted neighborhood. The money is lousy, of course, but that’s part of the fantasy — no one wants to turn around the lives of poor children just for a paycheck… Ed Boland had seen movies like [Lean On Me] and Stand and Deliver in which heroic teachers reach into the lives of at-risk adolescents and make a difference. Mr. Boland believed he could be one of them.” J. Leland New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: The Myth of the Hero Teacher, John Leland, NYT
“ An executive at Prep for Prep, a nonprofit organization that places minority children in elite private schools, he quit to teach ninth-grade history at a low-performing public school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I thought, I can do this, he said the other day, at a coffee shop near the Henry Street School for International Studies, where he arrived as a first-year teacher in fall 2006. I thought, I want to work on the front lines. I want to be one of those teachers that kids really like and listen to and learn from, and you can turn a kid around.
On his fifth day, as he describes it in his new memoir, The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School, his students schooled him in just how wrong he was.
On the other side of the room, someone had hurled a calculator at the blackboard, he writes. A group of boys were shoving one another near a new laptop. Two girls swayed in sweet unison and mouthed lyrics while sharing the earphones of a strictly forbidden iPod…When he turned to the girl who had started the disruption, he found her now standing on top of her desk, towering above me like a pro wrestler on the ropes about to pounce. She… then told him to perform an act that was anatomically impossible. The class erupted in laughter. Man, came the verdict that would follow Mr. Boland until year’s end, he can’t even control the girls.
The Battle for Room 314 arrives in a charged atmosphere, where public education has somehow become a contentious topic. Teachers are definitely talking about it, said Christopher Emdin, 37, who teaches science education at Teachers College, Columbia University…For Dr. Emdin, Mr. Boland’s book wrongly blames students for what is really a failure to train teachers, especially those working with students from backgrounds that are different from their own. Teaching in an urban school is a specialty, like surgery…who urges teachers to see beyond the thuggish behavior of difficult students, which might be a performance that itself involves great strategy and talent… Mr. Boland agreed with at least part of that assessment. Of all the hours I was at graduate school, I don’t think there was all together an hour devoted to classroom management…I just wish, when that girl stood on top of that desk, I knew what to do.
The teachers at his school, Mr. Boland said, often shared their frustrations at happy hours at local bars… Teacher training, especially in classroom management, has long been a point of contention between teachers and the city’s Education Department, said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers…As he prepared for publication, Mr. Boland said, he contacted as many students as he could, to tell them about the book and to apologize for his shortcomings as their teacher. Most were gracious…they had too many clueless teachers to get hung up on one.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- On the other side of the room, someone had hurled a calculator.
- A group of boys were shoving one another.
- Earphones are strictly forbidden.
- The girl started the disruption.
- The act was anatomically impossible.
- The Battle for Room 314 arrives in a charged atmosphere.
- Mr. Boland agreed with at least part of that assessment.
- The teachers at his school shared their frustrations.
- There’s a mind-set that it’s O.K. to make your mistakes on the job.
- Certain behavior is not acceptable.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
As he prepared/prepped for publication, Mr. Boland say/said, he contracted/contacted as many/menu students/student as he could, to teach/tell them about the book and to apologizes/apologize for his shortcomings as their tutor/teacher. Most were gracious/grace, he said; they had too many clueless teachers to get hung/hang up on one.
Grammar Focus: Prepositions
Directions: The following sentences are from the news article. For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.
Preposition List: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over, through, between, from, during, up, off,
“Teaching ___an urban school is a specialty, like surgery.
Especially those working with students from backgrounds that are different ___their own.
Teacher training, especially___ classroom management, has long been a point___contention___ teachers and the city’s Education Department.
Nee-cole is now working part-time___ a Whole Foods___ Westchester County.
She gets___ ___4:30___ the morning___ take a bus.”
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
- “Mr. Boland said he hoped people would not conclude from his book that the students were to blame for their chaotic classrooms, or that poor kids could not be taught. He wrote the book,to dispel the myth of the hero teacher, and the idea that just caring was enough. In the book’s final section, he blames poverty for the school dysfunction, nodding only briefly to the teachers and the methods that succeed with impoverished students, even where others fail.”
- “For Mr. Boland, the year did not get much better after that fifth day. By spring he was sleeping poorly, realizing that he had become like the cynical teachers he once disparaged — those who gave thanks when students skipped class or fell asleep at their desks. I thought, Where’s your self-respect?”
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.