(This week, as many of us are in the midst of "beginning of the school year" stuff, we thought we'd spend the week celebrating teaching and teachers in different ways. Each day this week (through Friday), we'll have a post related to teachers--book reviews, reflections, etc. To kick off the series, we want to share a new book by Teacher Jennifer Scoggin that celebrates the joys and challenges of teaching today.)
A while back, I somehow came across the blog IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES. I don't quite remember which post I first discovered but I became quite hooked on reading this blog. I was a little surprised at myself. Mrs. Mimi's tagline for her blog is, "This is a blog for TEACHERS WHO ROCK and are frustrated by the day to day drama that gets in the way of our interactions with children. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but sometimes a girl has gotta vent..." Mrs. Mimi certainly knows how to vent and she is HYSTERICAL when she is venting. And she has an avatar that moves--which I find fascinating on every visit. So, I read the blog for a while. It was my guilty pleasure--not really admitting to anyone that I was reading it. Then I became curious--how does she get away with saying some of the things she says? Come to find out that she is very sneaky about her anonymity. There was no way I could figure out who she was or where she taught. Brilliant girl. I ended up sharing blog posts with lots of friends and everyone who reads her seems to become a fan. So, when I found out that she had a new book coming out (titled IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES: MY ADVENTURES IN SECOND GRADE), I pre-ordered it right away! My book arrived last week and I finished it on Thursday.
Here's the thing--I usually stay away from negativity and venting. It brings me down. But Mrs. Mimi's venting is often right on--venting about things that are unfair to children and teachers. She manages to stay focused on what is important in teaching and vents about those things that get in the way. She believes that the classroom and the classroom teacher are key and that too many things get in the way of that. She cares deeply about her students and works hard to do the right thing for them, regardless of what gets in the way. She isn't one of those lazy teachers who whines and complains. She is honest about the frustrations of being a teacher and how she deals with the frustrations--how she manages to remember what is important.
I love this book. If you like her blog, you will love this book too, I think. The book is a kind of extension of the blog. In it, Mrs. Mimi (whose name we learn is Jennifer Scoggin who teaches in New York) takes us through a year in second grade. She is honest at the beginning to tell us that names have been changed, characters collapsed and stories have been dramatized. And she is clear that she is not attacking the place that she works. She loves her work and her school but wants to share the frustrations that she deals with. And how it is her students, "her little friends", who are often the ones who save her in the day-to-day of teaching.
You can tell right away what kind of book this will be because the first chapter is called, "Holy Crap, It's August!". (See how hysterical she is!) This is how the book begins. Right away, she dismisses the teacher stereotypes--teachers with theme sweaters who sit around and do nothing all summer. "Well, first we have the stereotypical image of an elementary school teacher who loves terrible thematic sweaters, sensible shoes, and necklaces made exclusively from dried pasta products and Tempera paint. This teacher may be sporting some sort of dangly thematic earring that may or may not blink. Perhaps she is brandishing a pointer as well. I think this teacher's soundtrack might include hits from artists such as Raffi. Fortunately, she exists mainly in the cloudy, and very delusional, childhood memories of the classroom held by many who seem to think they went to school in a Norman Rockwell painting or something." She puts it all right up front when she shares how much work she does to prepare for a new school year. She then continues through the year, sharing the joys and challenges of spending the year as a classroom teacher. The stories of her children are great--all of us who work with children have these stories. The small moments that happen in a classroom that remind us of how lucky we are to do the work we do. Mrs. Mimi shares lots of these. Each one made me smile.
Mrs. Mimi continues to take us through the school year-sharing the struggles she has with balancing home and work, dealing with crazy interruptions to her teaching, paperwork and data overload, and the difficult colleague. She shares the highlights too--"An unsung bonus of the teaching profession is the ability to rationalize the need for back-to-school clothes." She shares those moments when something makes sense to a child--those moments that can keep us energized for months. And she shares this importance of her "Super Colleagues".
This is more than a book about a teacher---it is a book about a teacher in this era of teaching. She says, "Right now, however, it feels like I get paid to be a human shield to protect my friends from all the chaos and drama that happen outside the walls of the classroom." Mrs. Mimi is a teacher who is trying to do all that is being asked of us and to still be the best teacher possible for her students. A teacher who knows that scripted curriculum and crazy mandates make our work so much harder and less effective. Mrs. Mimi understands and celebrates the fact that classroom teachers all have their own ways of doing things--and that there are many ways to be FABULOUS and to meet the needs of your children. She talks about every day stresses (field trips gone wrong, fire drills in the middle of great lessons) and the bigger frustrations that sap our energies.
I imagine this book will offend some people. She is honest and sometimes negative. She complains about some of the people she works with. And she swears a bit. But it didn't offend me. For many reasons. First of all, Mrs. Mimi works hard. She puts her all into the work with her kids and believes in every one of them. She is a champion for teachers and can't understand why the needs of the classroom aren't put first. Most importantly, Mrs. Mimi clearly believes in her kids and never says a negative thing about one of them. Mrs. Mimi is also a learner. Although she makes jokes throughout the book about how arrogant and fabulous she is, she is also the first to admit her weaknesses and to tell readers that she is a learner, trying to figure things out and doesn't have it all figured out. She is the kind of colleague that I love to work with. And, if I am honest with myself, I know that we all have stories like the ones she shares--the frustrating things that happen to us as we work to keep our students' needs first. And, we all (thankfully) have Super Colleagues who keep us energized and keep us focused on the things that are important. We all live similar joys and frustrations every day.
This book is definitely Fabulous. It was a reminder to me, that this work is hard. Really hard. So hard that it is often HYSTERICAL. But, in the end, we know that as teachers, we are lucky to be able to spend our days with children in elementary schools across the country. Love this new voice for teachers. I consider myself an official Mrs. Mimi fan.