Tuesday, August 27, 2013

John Owens' "Confessions of a Bad Teacher" Making Waves

I finished reading the entire book by John Owens about a week ago. I had to stop often to absorb -- and relish -- the devastating attack on the Bloomberg version of ed deform by Owens, who changed careers to go into teaching only to end up in a school with a principal from hell on his first - and only - teaching job. John, a teaching fellow, went back into his original field, publishing.

Normally I would resent a teacher with less than a year under his belt racing off to write a book about the poor lil children. But not John, who I got to meet at Leonie Haimson's Skinny Awards in June. I'm proud to have a blurb of mine on the book cover. When John asked me for a blurb back in May I looked over my shoulder and said, "who me?" As usual I procrastinated and only had time to read a few chapters of the pdf he sent, but saw right away John had nailed so much of it, amazed he was able to "get it" in such a short time in the system.

I don't agree with everything he recommends as a solution -- if John had remained in the system I believe he would have come to see that nothing will change policy wise without a political movement within the union to engage teachers and parents in an active fightback (he does make recommendations with a list of orgs to join). John wasn't around long enough to see the bigger picture of the neo-liberal assault on public education. He would be a MOREista I believe -- and I would like to make John an honorary member -- maybe even gift him a MORE tee-shirt.

I've been working on a more comprehensive chapter by chapter analysis (not review) of the book and want to compare it to a play I saw at the Fringe Festival this past Sunday by another career changing teacher in the Bronx ("Why You Beasting" -- which will be performed in the fall and I will be getting some group discounts for teachers).

I'll just let Diane Ravitch carry the load (so nice of me).

Today (Aug. 27)
A terrific interview in USA Today with John Owen, who patiently explains what is really happening today in education.

A sample:

Q: You call yourself a “bad” teacher. When did this idea first occur to you?
A: I was a bad teacher because I was a teacher. Today, “bad teacher” and “teacher” have become almost interchangeable. Listen to billionaire “visionaries” such as Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, as well as “experts” such as Michelle Rhee. The problem with our schools is bad teachers. Almost immediately, I realized that I was destined to be a bad teacher because many of my eight- and ninth-graders had learning problems, and I couldn’t fix them in the 46 minutes I had them each day. Many of my students had behavior problems, and I couldn’t fix those problems either. And I wasn’t very good at masking these problems, so my “scholars” didn’t look like they were learning when they weren’t learning. I also couldn’t keep them from getting excited and boisterous when they were learning.
Last week:

I Recommend This Book

by dianerav
This is a book written by John Owens, who left his own comfortable job in publishing to become a teacher in a high-poverty school in New York City. His eyes were opened by what he saw. This is his story of what he learned.
"An explosive new look at the pressures on today’s
teachers and the pitfalls of school reform,
presents a passionate appeal to save
public school education, before it’s too late.
"When John Owens left a lucrative publishing job to teach English at a public school in New York City’s South Bronx, he thought he could do some good. Instead, he found an educational maelstrom that robs students of real learning to improve school statistics at any cost, cons parents and taxpayers into thinking their children are being educated, and demonizes its own support system: the teachers.
"The situation has gotten to the point where the phrase “Bad Teacher” is almost interchangeable with “Teacher”. And Owens found himself labeled just that when the teaching methods that were inspiring his students didn’t meet with the reform mandates.
"With first-hand accounts from teachers across the country and practical tips for improving public schools, Confessions of a Bad Teacher is an eye-opening exposé of the dire state of American education and galvanizing call-to-action to embrace our best educators and incite real reform for our children’s futures."
Open the link to order the book.


  1. As a teacher in the South Bronx since the 1990's, I was very excited to hear about this book. (I ordered it yesterday). I too am heartbroken at the way the ed-deform movement has demolished the once great profession of teaching. It is my dearest hope that as the economy improves and parents become more enlightened, that we will see the ed-deform movement crumble to the ground and move on to the "next big thing".

  2. This is a very good book. Principal likely saw he was smarter than she was and since that's not allowed, he was toast

  3. Thank you!

    I am eager to sit down and continue my "schooling" -- and talk more about your perspective! Unlike the know-it-all reformers, I
    know that I have a lot to learn!

    Another pun -- sorry -- but let's talk "MORE."

    All best.

    1. Looking forward to it John. I would like you to meet the guy who wrote the play Why You Beasting. Maybe go see it at one of the upcoming performances. I will try to put a group together. I think for someone who walked into this system cold you "got it" amazingly quickly. I have to spend more time going through your recommendations - I sort of sped through it. I'm glad you called for people to take action. I think the reforming the union aspect is still the key to whatever we can change since the union has so much infrastructure in place.

  4. Would love to catch up and see the play. Saw your original post about it but couldn't get there. I hear you about the union issue--but you have the experience and perspective to bring me up to speed. Please let me know about the play, etc.

  5. I am enormously excited to read your book Mr. Owens. Thanks so much for bringing our worlds together, Mr. Scott. The answer to the above interview question gave me a knowing head-shake and resigned laugh. "I also couldn’t keep them from getting excited and boisterous when they were learning" is one of the most fascinating comments I've ever seen by an educator. Is it always a crime when students become boisterous? Must learning always be contained in some kind of acceptable and essentially muted form? It does seem to be a working assumption underpinning most of the ways in which we are asked to operate.


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