After commenting on Kelly’s post of Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the Bronx by Ilana Garon over at Read Lately, Ilana contacted me about receiving a review copy of her book.
And I’m so glad I read Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the Bronx, which I will mention from now on as Why Do Only, since it’s way shorter.
Ilana is like most teachers: white, educated, female, middle class. And her students are mainly from poverty, wrestling with the challenges of gangs, violence, lack of supplies (including food, clothing, proper shoes), and so on.
Ilana tells stories of her time spent as an inexperienced teacher in the Bronx. She talks about her challenges, the things she did well, along with some of her missteps, sometimes in a serious tone and other times with humor. In each chapter, you get to know a particular student by a penname, and whether you like that student by the end of the chapter or not, you have seen a complete picture.
I connected with this book for a few reasons:
- I took a community college course back in West Palm (home) in between freshman and sophomore year at FSU (you know, getting some credits out of the way). The class was speech, and I could only find it at the Palm Beach Community College campus in Belle Glade, which is not the nicest area to live. The class was during the day, a nice scenic drive (usually an alligator or two along the way). I was incredibly out of my element, though, with the speeches. I was the only white person in the classroom, besides the teacher, but I easily befriended a few students (who probably thought I was interesting to be friends with since I was such an anomaly). But what I gained most from the class, what I remember most is their dedication to learning. I hadn’t worked a bunch of jobs, had a few kids, and walked to campus for the class. My classmates cared more about this class than almost anyone I knew, probably because it was a struggle for many of them to get to that point. They were role models to me, and I still think about them occasionally.
- I also am a white, middle class Jewish teacher who taught at low income schools. I taught elementary school, not high school like Ilana, and had some bumps in the road to overcome regarding socioeconomic status (more info on working with kids from poverty).
However, you don’t need to be a teacher or have any sort of teaching background to identify with Ilana and enjoy her book. She’s honest, explaining both the triumphs and mistakes she made as a new teacher. She cares, she’s real, and also entertaining.
Why Do Only is a book I think anyone would enjoy. Will it change your life? Maybe not, but it will give you a new perspective without being all Stand And Deliver, Dangerous Minds, or Freedom Writers (you know, teacher comes into impoverished school and makes such an amazing difference that people can’t believe it!). This isn’t that: Why Do Only feels more real, it is more real.
Let’s be a little philosophical: How can you make a change in the world, or at least in your life?