What we can learn from teaching memoirs


Sometimes when I write, it feels like no one is listening. This also holds true when I feel trapped, depressed or deeply frustrated. Of course, I know I am not truly alone even when I’m physically by myself and sinking into dark thoughts. I’m not sure why I forget this.

Teaching feels very much the same way. When I’m in the classroom, I wouldn’t say it’s me against them, but I will recognize, I’m outnumbered. (And the smarter ones know it and capitalize on this.) We feel alone in our struggles for control. We can even feel alone when talking with our colleagues. Sometimes they can offer strong advice and other times nothing more than a sympathetic shrug or pat on the back.

I was surprised when I saw NPR’s review titled, Yet another teaching memoir? because I didn’t realize there were that many teaching memoirs. While I haven’t read Boland’s The Battle for Room 314, I can already relate to his struggles as a new teacher and his lofty idea to do good, not as a public school teacher per se, but as a private school one. On the surface there appears to be a wide variance between lower class/working class kids and privileged children, but I assure you, both groups have their challenges.

There is a reason why I quoted and resonated with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers chapter on Langan and Oppenheimer. I recognized how much I misunderstood my well-to-do parents and how my own upbringing by an immigrant mom and working class family caused avoidable problems within my class and throughout the school.

You know, as much as the world these days is interested in race warfare, the true battle, in my opinion lies in class differences.

Yet hopefully, Boland’s book brings to light the (sometimes impossible) struggle teachers’ face in lieu of circumstances that have nothing to do with the job that we were originally asked to do – teach.

Recently, I wrote “write your memoir (even if only 10 people read it)” because very often we feel alone in our daily lives. It’s easy to feel like no one cares, but I believe our everyday stories are important. So, I wanted to write something encouraging. I’ve also been lucky enough to receive emails from folks who felt compelled enough to do so. Here are some examples:

When my blog was not yet a book...so encouraging!

I had no idea nursing school (or other disciplines) could be this negative, too.

Relating to others, having others relate to you, I feel like this is what it's about! Connections :)

A former public school teacher...
Wow. Thank you. I helped someone!

Teaching memoirs are fascinating because, like the topic of education, everyone has an opinion of them. We’ve all gone through school, so we’re all “experts” on the topic. Of course, that’s part of the problem, too.

There’s also a huge fight for public education going on in the U.S. that I’m not even sure if the American public is aware of. (*update: now that Trump has been elected, they are)

Stories from teachers all over the world give us insight into what is going on behind closed classroom doors. Educating our children is everybody’s business and yet, there seems to be less schooling going on and a lot more politics. And that’s scary – it feels so sci-fi to live in a world where free education is disappearing, where profits triumph over people, where the arts and creativity are being tossed aside for classes + majors that push us towards "work that makes money".

Teaching memoirs matter because it’s one of the rare times teachers have a chance to be heard. Hear me. Hear us. Yes, my story is about my experience about Waldorf education and getting fired, but it’s also about economics, how we treat one another – and the very real truth, we are all teachers.

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