A few days ago I finished Brendan Halpin's riveting, expletive-laden memoir Losing My Faculties. It chronicles his 9 years as a high school teacher in the greater Boston area. In his own words:
I set out to write something different from the usual 'I saved those difficult kids in one short year' teaching books: I wanted to show how and why people keep at it, to be honest about what a great job it is without sugarcoating how hard it can be and how easy it is to get discouraged by the other adults. An elementary school principal who reviewed it for the Boston Globe called it, 'Cynical, mean-spirited, and depressing.' I humbly suggest that any book by a teacher which makes a principal apoplectic is worth a read.
Faculties is one of only a few books I've read recently that I didn't want to put down until it was done. It maybe took me five or six hours to read. At one point I read for almost three hours straight. That is rare for me, as my mind usually wanders elsewhere after about a hour or so.
Not with Halpin. His writing was direct, honest, and biting, and it really captured me:
"I have one senior class, and although I am undoubtedly the kind of guy they would beat senseless for fun if I were their age, the boys in the class decide that I'm cool" (60).
"I want to empower them, I want them to be free citizens rather than obedient automatons, and so I am just terribly uncomfortable with the reality of my authority" (39-40).
"Many, many [faculty] meetings degenerate into someone holding forth on the importance of the hat rule. Once I make the mistake of saying that the kids don't really understand this rule, that they generally obey rules that they understand, and that they continually break this rule because it seems arbitrary to them, and if we could just explain it, we might have better compliance. I am shouted down by a history teacher who yells, 'It's about RESPECT!,' thereby ending the discussion without actually saying anything" (91-92).
These are just three of hundreds of nuggets found in Halpin's book. I personally enjoyed it because it gave honest insight about the four different school cultures in which Halpin worked. He doesn't dedicate as much time to describing his lessons as he does to detailing his coworkers' quirks and annoyances, so don't go into it expecting to have profound pedagogical insights afterward.
Read it for his voice. Halpin comes off as idealistic but broken, and he's both bitter and earnest. I think all high school teachers should read this book, as it serves to honestly (and, albeit, quite subjectively) remind what is both great and troublesome about our profession.