Book Review IV: The First Days of School
Today is Good Friday, so there is no school in Champaign, Mahomet, or Urbana. The official name for the day off is “Spring Holiday” but I don’t think there is anyone who believes that it is merely coincidence that this day off occurs each year on Good Friday. And thus it is that I have spent my day taking care of things around the home, like washing and bagging fresh fruit and vegetables for my wife and I to grab for snacks while at work and cleaning up around the house.
As is my policy now, if I have the day off and have recently finished reading a vocational book, I write up a review. I don’t know how many people actually read the reviews or find them useful, but I do know that, by far, the most popular post of mine (based on specific page views and search terms), has been my review of The Dreamkeepers. The two other books I have read and reviewed so far have been Setting Limits in the Classroom and The Internet and the Law.
The next book in this series is How To Be an Effective Teacher: The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong. This is billed as the best-selling book in the education field. While it is ostensibly about the importance of the first days of school, it is much more than that. It is a book that emphasises the need for teachers to stop being workers and start being professionals. While I find that parts of it are outdated (I have a copy of the 2nd edition, though, so it is possible that the 4th edition is up-to-date), it is an excellent source for information on not just how to start the school year off right, but why the thing suggested are suggested.
I am very impressed that the Wongs start off saying, “Look, we aren’t presenting a method. We aren’t suggesting that you do everything that is in this book exactly as it is written. In fact, if you try to do that, you will fail. What we are presenting are principles of effectiveness, with examples to show how they have been carried out by your peers across the nation.” Throughout the book, there is a combination of principles and practice that make for a very easy read. In fact, I read the first hundred pages or so in one sitting (although it took me several weeks after that to read through the rest due to scheduling and time constraints).
My goal in reviewing this book is not to provide a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. For one, the Wongs did not write the book to be read from page one to page 1 to page 338 sequentially, even though that is how I chose to read it. It is meant to be used as a resource to which you can return again and again, looking up the specific information you need. In that regard, this is an excellent book. I love the organisation, I love the principles, and I love the suggestions. Off all the parts of the book, though, my absolute favourite is the concluding section, which discusses how to go about becoming a master in the field of education.
Something I have noticed in my work over the past several years has been the different kinds of teachers. The Wongs break them down into two categories: the worker-teacher and the leader-teacher. They even take it a step further and try to show the difference between a teacher and an educator. However, I am not comfortable with that division, simply because it becomes too… well, as much as I dislike the word, it is the best choice I can think of: pedantic. I am comfortable with identifying the difference between a teacher and a professional educator, though. That adjective in front of the latter term makes all the difference in the world when discussing mastery of the profession.
I know men and women who teach as a job. They come when required, they do the minimum, and they leave when the clock says it is time to go. There are far too many teachers in the world. But I also know many, many more who are professional educators. I don’t know how many have read The First Days of School, but I am willing to bet that, if they have, they agree with everything contained in these final chapters. Some of the suggestions that the Wongs make regarding becoming a professional are these:
- Join a professional organisation that provides a source of support, encouragement, and professional development.
- Read books and journals about the profession. Subscribe to at least one professional journal.
- Attend conferences and workshops and prepare papers to share at them.
- Observe other effective teachers and see what works for them. Invite teachers and administrators to observe you and provide critical feedback.
- Dress and act the part of a professional. Stop wearing sweats and tennis shoes to work and start dressing like an executive; after all, you are the CEO of your classroom.
- Be proud of your profession. Frame and display your diploma, your certificate, and any other credentials you have. Doctors and lawyers have brag walls; why don’t you?
After reading The First Days of School, I have found it even more important for me to read the other books I have. I started a text on balanced literacy and have already rediscovered a passion for two core theories relevant to this practice. I want to get my hands on other books and I want to subscribe to journals. I told my wife that I will subscribe to a professional journal the day I receive an offer to teach full-time. (I would subscribe now, but finances are a bit tight when relying upon as-needed work.)
So, what about the title of the book? What should teachers do on the first day of school? Interestingly, the beginning of the book ties in well with the conclusion. Teachers need to be professionals from day one. If I am the Chief Executive Officer, it mean that I am expected to have a plan. I don’t have to be a tyrant (remember, my philosophy of education embraces egalitarianism), but I need to know what we are going to do. I need to be dressed the part, I need to be ready, and I need to be willing to take the time to get things right first. As Stephen R. Covey puts it in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it is crucial to put first things first.
All in all, this is an excellent resource for educators who want to become professionals, whether they are still in the preparatory stages of entering the field or they are looking at the last few years before retirement. I will definitely be checking out the other books that the Wongs have written to see how else I can further my professional development.