Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It Won't be Easy {Book Review}

It has been eons since I did a book review here on the blog...but this one needs and deserves one.  

Quite honestly, I have no idea how I got connected to Tom Rademacher on Twitter. It's possible that it occurred when someone retweeted something of his and I noticed it. The name stands out to me immediately because there is a journalist by the same name in my hometown. This only matters to me because that journalist's brother, Dan, was my 6th grade teacher (who once lit up a cigarette in class to demonstrate a laser for us--it was the 80s, you could get away with that sort of thing back then). Dan was also my colleague for four years. The name kind of sticks out when I see it. 

Regardless of how the connection happened, once I saw that he had a new book out, I had to get it and read it. (Really, at this point, anything that distracts me from the dissertation is quite welcome since that sucker is All. Consuming. And. Never. Ending.)  

I was quite prepared for this book to not really be for me. I was sure it was written for new teachers (and it probably was)...but I will tell you after 11 years in the classroom, it still struck me in so many ways, so many times. I think the biggest reason is the profanity. I LOVE profanity. (For reals...the biggest criticism I have gotten from The Phoenix Rising is that I'm a teacher and swear too much.  As if teachers are such supreme beings that we can't have potty mouths too. Bonus: my new boss also swears like a sailor. So I'm not going to have to be too careful about those f-bombs...except around the kids of course. But I digress.)

Without further ado (or distractions), here is my honest review of It Won't be Easy:

The book is split into five parts: summer, fall, winter, spring and summer again. From the get-go, you're introduced to the "slightly unprofessional" side because the first chapter is called "welcome to the Shit Show" (is it horrible to admit that he had me at profanity?).

From the beginning, the text is filled with stories from the classroom and the life of a real teacher. Real kids, real issues, real situations that very well could have happened in my own school district. There are discussions about how you have to try to work together with adults (even when it sucks) because hey, guess what? It's not about you, it's about the kids. (That, in and of itself, was enough for me to really feel like this book deserves 5 stars...because I often feel like I'm surrounded by people who don't understand that it doesn't matter at all what we want or need or's about what that kid/those kids need in that moment that matters.)

At its core, what makes this book so powerful is the blatant love you feel for the students that are talked about in the stories. There are some downright crazy things that happen, but invariably, somewhere in there, Mr. Rad says something along the lines of "this kid is going places, just so you know." The complete and shameless belief in the ability of these students to go out and change the world is what kept me hooked in this text, without a doubt.

I think, hands down, my favorite part in the book is "Fall." It begins with a toolkit of sorts which provides practical things you should definitely make sure you keep handy in your classroom  at all times. (My own personal toolkit also includes chocolate and a travel size toothbrush and toothpaste that I replace quarterly--I am not a coffee drinker but news flash, diet coke breath isn't that awesome either.)  The next section is called "Do No Harm" and it's magical and should be printed and passed to every new teacher when they sign their contract. Seriously. Mr. Rad flat out tells you that you're less important than the kids. (Sorry, but I agree.) Again, it's not about the adults. Ever.

Honest discussions about racism, how to navigate (or not navigate) the slang of the kids and how to be mindful of what you say and how it might be interpreted by those around you abound throughout this book. From having to break a promise to a kid to not tell (but telling because you actually care about the kid) to owning the fact that every single teacher in history is going to feel like the worst teacher ever at some point, this book lays it on the line and doesn't sugar coat anything. (You're definitely not going to find a sunshine and rainbows narrative here and quite honestly, it is probably the biggest strength of the book.)

Just over halfway through the book (roughly 59% according to Kindle), Mr. Rad talks about the worst advice ever. Guess what? I have been given this advice many times in my career. I've also ignored it. I ALWAYS put my nose in where it isn't asked and yes, it gets me in trouble. Guess what else? I don't care (because again, not about me).

Obviously I enjoyed this book. It's worth the read, it really is....but when you cut to the chase...the last part of the book is the most touching. Instead of a simple acknowledgements page or two, you get multiple pages with multiple examples of students who have made a difference to this teacher. I actually kind of teared up reading it because it's so genuine.

Even if you're not a newbie, this is a book worth reading. I think it's long overdue that someone had the nerve to share the realities of teaching--that it can be and sometimes is a shit show--while always putting forth the proclamation that it is, indeed work worth doing.


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