It’s been a little over a week since I finished this book, and am now finally getting to post a review amid the busy flow of teaching this semester. Upon finishing it, and since, I vacillated between what ‘star’ rating I should give this collection of essays. In terms of expectations it was a bit of a disappointment to me, but in terms of judging it solely on what its own being it warrants higher consideration; so I went for the latter.
I expected this to be a collection of essays about “Real Teachers”, stories of different in-class experiences, perhaps even from multiple points of view. In a very broad interpretation it could be considered to be so. But really it is more of a series of reflections, a memoir of sorts, of Grauer’s personal experiences and view. Because Grauer breathes education and allows the subject to intersect all aspects of his existence and interactions, the ‘educational lessons’ and ‘teachers’ he accounts in each essay come from all aspects of experience and position, whether a professor, a Native American high school teacher, a child relative, or the impoverished citizens of rural Mexico. Each chapter memoir focuses on key themes or ideas related to education, both theoretical and practical. They are each personal reflections by Grauer on what he learned from each experience regarding how education can, and perhaps should, proceed.
Within this framework, Grauer accomplishes, above all, inspiration and food for further thought. Nicely, he includes victories, failures, and those educational experiences that fall somewhere in between. Similarly, some chapters are long and assertive in their conclusions, while others are brief and more meditative. While the reader might not agree with all of Grauer’s conclusions and statements, I don’t see that as the point of this book. It is not written to convince: as a memoir, not an ‘academic’ work, it lacks extensive citations to backup all assertions. Instead the point seems to be for Grauer to get the educator thinking more deeply and more holistically about the art of their vocation. And perhaps to recapture some of that passion and joy.
The holistic aspects of education permeate the entire book, echoing the commitment of Grauer to his calling and underscoring the intense personal and deep connections involved in the education process between educator and student and the surrounding physical world and human culture. Being written by Grauer and prominently featuring his own private school, I feared the book would come across as self-serving and boastful. For the most part I didn’t find this to be the case. Most consistently, I found Grauer to be frankly honest and focused on a goal of increased personal learning. While Grauer comes across as particularly ‘liberal’ in the classic sense, the book is not remotely political, and Grauer likewise holds positions and ideas that are profoundly ‘conservative’ as well, all depending on what he has concluded engenders the greatest opportunity for real teaching.
At the end, I don’t actually know if there is a strict definition of what a “real teacher” is to Grauer, much as it is hard for a biologist like myself to come up with a simple one sentence definition of “life”. It would be interesting to read a book by Grauer that focuses more on solutions and firm facts regarding education, rather than relatively vague reflective meditations. But perhaps Grauer’s point is that there are no standardized solutions or universal firm facts of the teaching process, but a complex, adaptive relationship between people who require openness to getting things wrong and learning from one another through missteps.