“The popular notion of what it’s like to teach in urban America is dominated by two extremes” (Michie, 1999, p. xxi). Gregory Michie succeeds admirably in rendering his teaching experiences in the complicated reality between two extremes in his book Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students. Many people hear about the horror stories, portrayed by the media mainly, that schools in urban America are nothing short of chaos; uneducated and uninterested kids. Then there are other stories that are rarely heard of, about the one teacher who makes the difference in such a school.
Michie’s account in his book skillfully avoids the simplification either extreme would demand. Holler if You Hear Me touches on a variety of the fundamental challenges of teaching: classroom discipline, teacher frustration, racial and ethnic differences, student apathy, relationships with students and with other teachers, and the list goes on. Throughout the book, Michie balances his tales of struggle with moments of joyous success. Not surprisingly, the successes are often related to the development of deeper connections between teacher and student.
This aspect is so detrimental to the educational system. As teachers we need to make that connection with our students. To not do so would be taking away from their experience as a student as well as ours as teachers. Isn’t this why we teach to begin with? This goal may seem high considering you have to add on top of curriculum, standards, rowdy students, the personal connection of teacher and student. It may seem this way, but if it’s not set, then everything else does not seem worth the trouble at all.
Esme Codell states my beliefs on this topic beautifully: “The goal is not necessarily to succeed but to keep trying, to be the kind of person who has ideas and sees them through” (Codell, 1999, p. 5). I may not succeed in reaching every student I teach, but if the effort is made on my part, if I set this goal and try to see it through, then at least I know I did not give up. There are so many situations that Michie was in where I felt he should just let it go, don’t try because it’s not going to work out, especially so in the story where Reggie was attacked by a local police officer, but he didn’t (Michie, 1999, p. 46). As I was thinking about this, I wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of seeing this man brought to justice, although in the end he wasn’t. Michie wasn’t even there, but he knew if something wasn’t done, this would affect the way Reggie grew up and viewed life. It is this kind of dedication that inspires me to keep going to classes and writing papers. I want to help students to see our world in a different light. Joel Spring stated in his book, American Education, “the school will continue to be used in efforts to solve social, political, and economic problems” (Spring, 2004).
The purpose of public schooling is to prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s problems. It is important not only to teachers and students, but also to the community as a whole. If the communities where these children are being raised see the teachers that teach their kids really do care, the implications are endless. Things could change, especially so for urban American communities. I know these are high hopes, but again, if I don’t set them, how will I even begin to see them through. Being a teacher means I must strive to connect with my students.
I have to see beyond my basic responsibilities as a teacher and bring the students to the fore-front of my life. It is the little moments of success that will bring such a connection to our relationships with our students. “It’s a teachable moment that got away, just one of many that I’ve knowingly let slip through my fingers” (Michie, 1999, p. 102). Michie presents his victories with a genuine modesty that comes from the experience of other, less effective teaching moments, but these moments are not always successful. Michie’s reported mistakes and difficulties are some of the most instructive parts of the book.
As a prospective teacher, I have to understand the reality of life that not all teachable moments are going to be seen through. Sometimes they are lost and Michie has opened my eyes to such an existence. The only difference is that I hope I do not “knowingly” allow this to happen. At times, though, I wanted to hear even more introspection from the author about the reasoning behind his actions or why he thinks a particular moment worked well or did not work at all. It was frustrating when there was no follow up on something as important as “a teachable moment being lost” (Michie, 1999, p, 102).
It is apathy such as this that makes going into the teaching field frustrating. The Corridor of Shame is a prime example of a cold detachment of interest. Nobody really cares for the students who live out there along the highway, but who is suffering? The students are. Do people even know what’s going on in our state? I didn’t until I watched this film. What kind of message is this sending to our nation? What’s behind the motives of leaving schools such as these left out to die? Politics? Hidden agendas? Who knows? What is important is that we ask these questions and put forth an effort to find the answers.
We need to find out why teachers, administrators, parents, etc. allow schools to be lost. Essentially these schools are if you think about it. A school that is neglected is an entire lifetime of teachable moments being lost. Holler If You Hear Me contains powerful stories of Michie’s first years as a teacher in public elementary and middle schools on Chicago’s South Side. Each chapter begins with a story told by Michie, followed by the reflections of one of his former students who were at the fore-front of each story.
Michie’s purpose in this alternating format is to “shed light on the education of a teacher” and “to allow space for my students to speak their minds, tell their stories, raise their voices” (Michie, 1999, p. xxi). I really enjoyed these first-person reflections because it made Michie’s students come alive for me regardless of how insightful and caring the author’s descriptions might be. It was different and refreshing. As I was reading this book, I was able to empathize as well as sympathize with both teacher and student. This type of narration allowed me to see past the words written and see the person behind the font.
Since Michie’s book does not follow one classroom or group of students throughout its entirety, the student reflections serve to deepen my understanding of certain students but also to encourage me to wonder about the future lives of each student that Michie mentions. This part was actually where I was disappointed. I felt that I was ‘left hanging,’ there was no resolution. Some of the stories did not need this, but I felt that if he thought the student’s story was significant enough to be talked about, then he should have let us readers have a clue as to how they ended up.
Michie’s concern for and commitment to his students shines in Holler If You Hear Me, and his questioning, wonderment, frustration, passion, and humor pulled me along this journey of embodied education. Michie was in fact the miracle-worker that no one hears about in a world where chaos is synonymous with life in general for those who went to school in urban Chicago. Although he lived in such extreme realities, his ability to clearly display his experiences in no way was diminished in his book.
While many of the issues raised are familiar, Michie’s book is one of ordinary inspiration that will appeal to both teachers and students. Works Cited Codell, E. (1999). Educating esme: Diary of a teacher’s first years. In A. S. Canestrari & B. A. Marlowe (Eds. ) Educational foundations: An anthology of critical readings (pp. 3-7). Sage Publications. Michie, G. (1999). Holler if you hear me: The education of a teacher & his students. New York: Teachers College Press. Documentary from class: Corridors of Shame Handout from class: Joel Spring: The Purposes of Public Schooling