Substitute Going to school with a thousand kids

Nicholson Baker

Book - 2016

In 2014, after a brief orientation course and a few fingerprinting sessions, Nicholson Baker became an on-call substitute teacher in a Maine public school district. Nearly every morning, he awoke to the dispatcher's five-forty a.m. phone call and headed to a nearby school. When he got there, he did his best to follow lesson plans and help his students get something done. In Baker's hands, the inner life of the classroom is examined anew -- mundane worksheets, recess time-outs, surprise... nosebleeds, rebellions, griefs, minor triumphs, kindergarten show-and-tell, daily lessons on everything from geology to metal tech to the Holocaust -- as he and his pupils struggle to find ways to get through the day. Baker is one of the most inventive and remarkable writers of our time, and this book, filled with humor, honesty, and empathy, may be his most impressive work of nonfiction yet. --

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Subjects
Published
New York : Blue Rider Press [2016]
Language
English
Physical Description
719 pages ; 23 cm
ISBN
0399160981
9780399160981
Main Author
Nicholson Baker (author)
  • Day one: Small but hostile
  • Day two: Mystery picture
  • Day three: I suck at everything
  • Day four: Your brain looks infected
  • Day five: Toast
  • Day six: Out comes the eyeball
  • Day seven: What the hell was that?
  • Day eight: He's just a hairy person
  • Day nine: I can write, but I don't write
  • Day ten: Don't kill penguins cause other friends get sad
  • Day eleven: She stole my grape
  • Day twelve: I don't judge
  • Day thirteen: There's nothing exciting or fun happening today
  • Day fourteen: When you close your eyes and think of peace, what do you see?
  • Day fifteen: But we didn't do anything
  • Day sixteen: Silent ball
  • Day seventeen: Non-negotiables
  • Day eighteen: The man who needs it doesn't know it
  • Day nineteen: Simple machines
  • Day twenty: Stink blob to the rescue
  • Day twenty-one: Keep your dear teacher happy
  • Day twenty-two: He particularly doesn't like this particular spot
  • Day twenty-three: How do you spell juicy?
  • Day twenty-four: Hamburger writing
  • Day twenty-five: High on summertime
  • Day twenty-six: I kind of break my own spirit sometimes
  • Day twenty-seven: That's just the way school is
  • Day twenty-eight: Plutonic love.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Award-winning novelist and nonfiction author Baker (Traveling Sprinkler, 2012) brings his inimitable perspective and literary style to the classroom in this compelling, enormously detailed, endlessly surprising chronicle of working for 28 days as a substitute teacher in his Maine public-school district. In a brief introduction, he describes the book as a "moment-by-moment account," and he's not kidding. He teaches every subject, monitors cafeteria time and recess, attends mandatory assemblies, and keeps exhausted teenagers awake in homeroom. In each chapter, Baker records what he sees, hears, and experiences in kindergarten through high-school classrooms. Nearly every word he hears is in these pages, the petty arguments and complaints, the frustrations and fears, the excitement and joy. Baker makes no wide pronouncements about the education system or curriculum, but rather reports on the rigid schedule that keeps everyone moving from one topic to another as students fight fatigue and boredom on an hourly basis and as dreaded worksheets evoke horror in everyone, including Baker. There is no need for Baker to quote experts; all he had to do was listen. What he learned and what he so clearly recounts is powerful. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Folks likely think first of Baker in terms of his daring and deeply descriptive novels (e.g., Vox), but let's remember that he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction, namely, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (controversial to some). Here, Baker uses his experience as a substitute teacher in Maine's public school system to examine the thorny issue of education in America today. [Page 70]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

To research his new book, award-winning author Baker (Double Fold) spent 28 days as the "lowest-ranking participant in American education: a substitute teacher." His objective is not to give policy prescriptions or to discover "what works" in education but rather to convey the "noisy, distracted, crazy-making reality" of schools surrounding his home in rural Maine. Baker effectively portrays the everyday din of grinding pencil sharpeners and screaming students. His book abounds in artful observations and snippets of dialog with children, and in this compares favorably to a classic of the genre: Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren. But it is also studded with subtle insights. He writes of the apparent futility of schooling, the "valueless, instantly forgettable knowledge" that children are expected to absorb, and bemoans the educational culture of assessment tools and checklists. Baker spends a lot of time—perhaps too much—reporting on students: what they say, do, and even eat. Amid all this data, some readers may justifiably be looking for more than mere observation. Nevertheless, this minor quibble should not dissuade libraries from purchasing one of the few tomes relating to substitute teaching. VERDICT Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/7/16.]—Seth Kershner, Northwestern Connecticut Community Coll. Lib., Winsted. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Baker (Traveling Sprinkler) returns to nonfiction with this extensive day-to-day account of his experience working as a substitute teacher in Maine. Baker worked a total of 28 days, in multiple roles ranging from kindergarten to high school as well as serving as an "ed tech." He faithfully recounts the minutiae of his activities, each day unfolding over the course of 40 to 50 pages. There are plenty of worksheets to hand out, discipline schemes to remember, and a constant, drumbeating reminder for the students to be "totally quiet!" Also ubiquitous are iPads, ("the bane of education," according to one teacher), which do more to distract than instruct. Baker soon discovers that even iPad cases become fearsome weapons in the hands of schoolchildren. Many students ignore his meager attempts to teach, or don't even bother to try anything that might be considered learning. The funny, loud, struggling, blithe kids interest him much more than any of the lessons he tries to teach. Although Baker truly admires the kids around him, by day nine, he is defeated and ready to give up. Though much of the text recounts conversations among students, and Baker's signature wordplay and inventive voice shine through elsewhere in the narrative. The book can be tedious when read in long stretches, but ultimately Baker forges a gripping and indispensable time-capsule of teaching and learning in the 21st century. (Sept.) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Describes how the author became an on-call substitute teacher in pursuit of the realities of American public education, describing his complex difficulties with helping educate today's students in spite of flawed curriculums and interpersonal challenges.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Describes how the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author became an on-call substitute teacher in pursuit of the realities of American public education, describing his complex difficulties with helping educate today's students in spite of flawed curriculums and interpersonal challenges.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

**A New York Times Bestseller**“May be the most revealing depiction of the American contemporary classroom that we have to date." —Garret Keizer, The New York Times Book Review Bestselling author Nicholson Baker, in pursuit of the realities of American public education, signed up as a substitute teacher in a Maine public school district.In 2014, after a brief orientation course and a few fingerprinting sessions, Nicholson Baker became an on-call substitute teacher in a Maine public school district. He awoke to the dispatcher’s five-forty a.m. phone call and headed to one of several nearby schools; when he got there, he did his best to follow lesson plans and help his students get something done. What emerges from Baker’s experience is a complex, often touching deconstruction of public schooling in America: children swamped with overdue assignments, over­whelmed by the marvels and distractions of social media and educational technology, and staff who weary themselves trying to teach in step with an often outmoded or overly ambitious standard curriculum.   In Baker’s hands, the inner life of the classroom is examined anew—mundane work­sheets, recess time-outs, surprise nosebleeds, rebellions, griefs, jealousies, minor triumphs, kindergarten show-and-tell, daily lessons on everything from geology to metal tech to the Holocaust—as he and his pupils struggle to find ways to get through the day. Baker is one of the most inventive and remarkable writers of our time, and Substitute, filled with humor, honesty, and empathy, may be his most impressive work of nonfiction yet.