Utilizing 35+ years of teaching experience, Scott Mandel (2020) brings to life everyday events that occur in the life of a teacher in his new book, Classrooms in the Real World: Practical advice from a Veteran Teacher. His stories are simple and to-the-point and provide insight on how he successfully handled some challenging situations. These scenarios would be a beneficial resource for both teacher education courses and in-service seminars as a springboard for discussion and reflection. Each of the 25 chapters presents different scenarios that can be used to address topics such as classroom management, positive learning environments, curriculum changes, differentiation, students with special needs, parents, administrators, and keeping your sanity as a teacher in todays classroom.
Scott Mandel is a National board-certified teacher with experience at both the elementary and middle school levels. He also presents professional development sessions for teachers. In his book, Mandel addresses the change that has happened in teaching and shares anecdotes from his own teaching experiences. It is a book that is practical and beneficial for pre-service teachers, practicing teachers, or anyone who wants a glimpse into the daily life of a teacher.
Teaching has become a complex and challenging profession. Prospective teachers and new teachers want to know what really happens throughout the day and possible ways to respond. For pre-service teachers, being in the classroom is most beneficial, however when that is not possible, using anecdotes such as Mandels can provide valuable insight into possible challenges. Mandels passion for teaching and his use of humor are clear in his response to many situations that occurred in his own classroom. For pre-service teachers in the college classroom, these scenarios can be used as a catalyst for discussion and reflection about classroom management and ways to build positive learning environments. For practicing teachers, these experiences may provide insight into some of the daily challenges and provide examples of how they might positively impact students in their care.
The beginning chapters address the changes that have occurred in education over the past couple decades and the impact they have had on curriculum and teaching. Chapters Three through Ten address a variety of situations that demonstrate the ways in which Mandel implemented his classroom management. His focus was on building positive relationships by knowing who his students were. He built respect and created a positive learning environment where all students could succeed. Its your basic personality and how you relate to your students that determine more than anything how they will respect you and relate to you (p. 15).
Each of his anecdotes reinforces the theory and pedagogy that is foundational to creating a positive learning community. He had high expectations and was considered the mean teacher, but his students respected him because they knew he held them accountable for their own learning and that he was fair. He helped his students become positive, productive individuals. Through his stories, Mandel encourages teachers to:
Do what you know is right for your students (p. 4)
Set high expectations, adapt to the change, and be professional. It is okay to have fun and share your passion for teaching while holding students accountable for their own learning and behavior.
Participate in special days and school functions, be human, have a sense of humor, share your interests. Get to know your students and provide them with ways to earn respect and learn how to be cooperative and independent.
Admit when you are wrong and take responsibility for your mistakes.
Have a holistic view and consider all aspects of life as part of their educational journey. Recognize they are kids, be their advocate. Kids need to know that you care.
The second half of Mandels book provides insight into a variety of topics that are not always fully addressed in the college classroom or teacher in-service sessions. He addresses issues related to curriculum, administration, grading, differentiation, professional development, working with parents, and his own philosophy and research that utilizes cooperative learning. His responses to these situations are practical and applicable to many events that occur in the daily lives of teachers. He addresses the need for teachers to be creative and adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of their own students. Set high expectations for all students, including those with special needs and English language learners. He encourages teachers to brainstorm new ideas, be spontaneous, connect to other life experiences, be ready for the unexpected, and build positive relationships with the principal and administration.
Using his own research and philosophy, Mandel shares strategies he utilized to include all students in the learning process. His ideas are practical and easy to implement by any teacher interested and wanting to build a positive learning environment. He incorporates his own teaching methodology that clearly reflects his teaching philosophy and research. He offers insights on cooperative learning and the importance of identifying students with leadership qualities. Mandel then describes the use of Multiple Intelligences (Howard Gardner) and the ability to differentiate and activate the learning processes for everyone.
Mandel clearly focuses on using a sense of humor, building trust, incorporating parents and administrators as allies, and keeping ones sanity as he summarizes what he has learned during his many years of teaching. Keeping a sense of humor helps reduce stress, often provides a different perspective, and helps to keep ones sanity when the day and work is challenging. Attitude is important.
While textbooks can provide a foundation for theory and what should happen, Mandels experiences provide realistic glimpses of what really happens and what being a teacher really means (p. xvi). His anecdotes offer a window into a variety of classroom experiences, allowing prospective teachers as well as practicing teachers to reflect on various situations and think about how they might effectively engage with students, families, and administrators in a positive, respectful manner. His engaging anecdotes remind his readers of the importance of knowing a teachers impact on a childs life. This isnt a 9-to-5 job (p. 120). Teachers in the classroom need to keep things in perspective, be honest, enjoy their students, be themselves, and let students know they care.