Letters to a Teacher by Sam Pickering

March 27, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): Letters to a Teacher is a welcome reminder that teaching is a joy and an art. In ten graceful yet conversational letters addressed to teachers of all types, Sam Pickering shares compelling, funny, always elucidating anecdotes from a lifetime in the classrooms of schools and universities. His priceless, homespun observations touch on topics such as competition, curiosity, enthusiasm, and truth, and are leavened throughout with stories – whether from the family breakfast table, his revelatory nature walks, or his time teaching in Australia and Syria.

More than a how-to guide, Letters to a Teacher is an invitation into the hearts and minds of an extraordinary educator and his students, and an irresistible call to reflection for the teacher who knows he or she must be compassionate, optimistic, respectful, firm, and above all dynamic. This is an indispensable guide for teachers and laymen alike.

Liked:

  • Some of Pickering’s advice was spot-on and made me wish that more teachers thought like him. For example, he’s all for giving make-up exams and homework assignments instead of simply handing out F’s when students miss a deadline. Students have bad days, too, so there’s no point in being a hard-ass just to show you have “power” (he put it far more eloquently than that). I wish some of my high school teachers had lived by this philosophy!
  • It’s obvious that Pickering loves teaching. I’m glad he took the time to share some of his wisdom with others. It seems that far too many teachers hate their job or hate some aspect of their job and let those negative feelings taint what they do in the classroom. This book contains a lot of reminders about what’s good and worthwhile in the profession.

Disliked:

  • This is not the author’s fault, but I thought this book would be filled with letters from former students to Pickering thanking him for being an inspiration or whatever. After all, this was the man that Dead Poet’s Society was based on, so I figured he’d have a ton of those kinds of letters. I wanted to hear how he impacted lives and influenced career choices. I wanted to hear that students sent him cookie bouquets for baby shower gifts and came back to visit him often. But alas, there were only a few excerpts from messages sent from former students — not nearly enough for my tastes!
  • Pickering’s writing sometimes wasn’t very clear. He frequently went off on unrelated tangents, and then worked his way back without bothering with transitions or other “signposts” to clue the reader into what was going on. It was jarring and, frankly, a bit annoying.

Rating:

Overall, I found Letters to a Teacher by Sam Pickering to be good in places, but mostly underwhelming. Maybe I was expecting too much because of his DPS reputation, or maybe I was just a bit miffed that the book wasn’t full of letters from students. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed and agreed with some of the advice, but skimmed through a lot of Pickering’s digressions. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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