Summer Reading

Most of us have an indelible experience of the first school where we had our first professional position. Ask me  (Helga) about Chanhassen Elementary School in Chanhassen, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb. The books I am introducing in this blog tell the stories of first year teachers’ experiences. All have humor in them, with a touch of sadness in some stories. Given the fact that these have been written over the past 10 years, political comments are rampant, but that’s part of the charm.

Here are a few ‘first year teacher’ experiences from the McLure Education Library’s main collection, compiled by Helga Visscher:

Educating Esme:Diary of a Teacher’s First Year. Esme Raji Codell. Algonquin books of Chapel Hill, 2001.  LB 2844.1 N4 C63 1999.

Esme Codell, Ms Esme, is a 24 year old in her first year of teaching at a new public school in Chicago. She meets the challenges of teaching troubled inner city children with the enthusiasm of youth. She learns to deal with other teachers who lack her energy and imagination, and motivate students in her off-the wall methods. She calls math class ‘puzzler time,’ and social studies ‘time travel and world exploring.’ The diary style of this book offers humorous and poignant scenes.



Ms Moffett’s first year : becoming a teacher in America.  Abby Goodnough. New York: Public Affairs, 2004.  LC 5133.N4 G66 2004.

This book began as a series of articles in the New York TImes. Donna Moffet, a 45 year old legal secretary changed her career to teaching in a program seeking ‘talented professionals’ from other careers to teach in New York public schools. The author comments that “only the ‘pathologically idealistic’ had any desire to teach in these schools. The third person description of events is not as entertaining as a personal diary, but a lot of background information about the school, and Ms Moffett’s experiences improve the understanding of the teacher’s motivation.


My Freshman year: what a professor learned by becoming a student. Rebekah Nathan. Cornell University Press. 2005.   LB3605 .N34 2005

Cathy Small, an anthropologist writing under the pen name of Rebekah Nathan goes undercover as an undergraduate student at Northern Arizona University. Her plan is to figure out why students choose to just get by with minimal work. She learns that students actually have a desire to be challenged. Good reading for teachers and students trying to cope with a large university.



The great expectations school: a rookie year in the new blackboard jungle, a memoir. Dan Brown. Arcade Publishing, 2007.  LB2844.1 N4 B775 2007.

Dan Brown describes his experiences with humor, and haunting descriptions of tragic situations. Part of the book is a tirade agaisnt the system, and part of it is a story of his personal growth and gaining maturity to deal with the unfairness of life’s situations. His experiences at P.S. 85 in the Bronx, New York City, where in his first year experience has a 4th grade classroom that is the school’s informal dumping ground.

Relentless pursuit: a year in the trenches with Teach for America. Donna Foote. Alfred A. Knopf. 2008. LC 5133 .L67 F66 2008

Another journalist describes the Teach for America Program in the poor districts of Los Angeles.  Foote’s comment,’Teaching in a low-income school right out of college is a shock to the system,’ is true for all young teachers, not just those in the TFA program. The four idealistic teachers chronicled in this book offer a look at classroom experiences in LA.