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So you want to be a teacher ... Read this first

by Jo Freeman 

Review of Diary of an Inner City Teacher
by Tamam Tracy Moncur
Published by Lumen-us Publications; ©2008, 154 pp.

After two decades of teaching middle school in Newark, N.J. Tamam Moncur has captured her experience in a diary, covering one school year from September 3 to June 28. She doesn’t tell us the calendar years, and her diary may have been written over more than one. Rather the Diary is a meditation on what it is like to be an inner-city teacher in the time of No Child Left Behind

To write about her students, her colleagues and herself without violating their privacy, she gives them names reflecting a notable characteristic. Moncur of course, is Ms. Teacher. Some of her students are Got to Blurt OutMr. PlayfulAnger, Apathy, Missing Skills, The Intellect and A Really Nice Child. Teaching math to this varied group of sixth graders is, to say the least, challenging.

Their skill and knowledge levels are diverse; some kids talk back and act out; some bring electronic devices to class so they can play truant with their minds if not their bodies; some bring their problems from home and some use school to escape from those problems. In addition to three classes of math, she has to teach Social Studies to her home room and supervise her students’ participation in community service projects.

Despite all of these challenges, and the fact that "teachers get no respect in today’s society," Ms. Teacher loves her profession. She welcomes the "opportunity to light the way for our future generations." But she does believe that Newark is one of the harder school systems in which to teach. She says that there is "a direct correlation between social issues confronting communities and the learning readiness of the children that live in these areas." Newark has more than its share of social problems.

As I read her book I couldn’t help comparing her experiences with what my mother had to say about teaching middle school. There are a lot of differences between teaching in Newark today and in Los Angeles fifty years ago, but the importance of parents is still paramount. What happens in the home has an enormous effect on what happens in the classroom. If parents don’t care, or don’t know how to help their children make the most of their school years, not only do their children suffer, but so does every other child in the class.

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