This tell-all book about teaching relates triumphant stories of kids achieving against all odds and staff members who refuse to give up on their students.
A Place of Learning: A Teacher’s Story
By Catherin DePino
Review by Jeffrey Ross
Nothing I write in this brief review can do justice to this quality work. On one level, A Teacher’s Story is DePino’s loving memoir about 31 years of teaching at different high schools. It is also a review of cultural and pedagogic trends in our society since the late 1960’s. The title is most important—the phrase “a place of learning” is used in many chapters in this book—of course, the easy explanation is that a school is a place of learning. But the text itself is a learning experience—you will learn about the compelling struggles of students, teachers, parents, and staff. You will learn that public schools are a daily work place for teachers-- but also a place of hope for inner city kids who need a break, a refuge, from sometimes very tough family lives. I loved the school restroom conversations among teachers (do you suppose real strategic planning and-team building takes place in the lounge and restrooms?) and the snippets of their personal- life dilemmas. The appendix with school recipes is wonderful. But I think my favorite parts were the sections describing former students who returned to their schools to check in and share their successes since moving on into adulthood. Teachers are so important in their students’ lives. In many ways, teachers are the unrecognized front-line guardians of our society’s future—not just in academics, but in character development as well. This should be required reading in teacher preparation classes. It is easy to read, fair, and heartwarming.
EXCERPT: A Place of Learning
There's a picture on my wall, faded now, of my students marching down the aisle of our city's largest university's auditorium where our local high schools stage their graduations. Parents, grandparents, and children wave lollipop colored balloons in the bleachers. Sophomores and juniors jump up and shout out names of seniors as they enter the massive hall in their blue and gold robes. "Sheree, Willie, Jonette..."
The graduates march slowly down the aisle, right foot first, then the left foot meeting the right, then the left again, like a quaint wedding march. Mendelssohn isn't playing. Instead, it's the Sounds of Blackness singing "Optimistic."
Dr. Leeds strides up to the podium. He doesn't shout out his usual, "Looking good, feeling good, and smelling good." Instead, he tells the graduates how he knows many of them are the first in their families to earn a high school diploma and that the act of their coming to school each day in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, such as teen parenthood, poverty, violence, and drug addiction, is an act of profound courage on their part.
"So, stand up now and applaud yourselves." He is openly crying and gesturing with open arms to the audience. "Applaud each other."
The crowd waves banners and balloons in a flurry of crayon colors. Restless babies squirm in their mothers' arms and cry out for it to be over. Weary grandparents fan themselves. Dr. Leeds calls the graduates up one by one. He tries to say something personal to each one as he hands them their diplomas.
"Anna, you come back and see me when you finish community college. Maybe we'll have a job for you here."
"Demetrius, if I ever need a lawyer, I'll be sure and look you up." He smiles and whispers. "First, you need to go get a new haircut, and get rid of those ugly plaid shirts."
Demetrius smiles widely. He is proud to be valedictorian.
Next Dr. Leeds moves toward Samuel, who beat up Mr. Parks, the security guard. He speaks in a low voice so the audience can barely hear. "Personally, I don't believe you deserve to graduate, but I'm sending you off anyway. Got no choice. Others need to take your place, but if I see you anywhere near this building, I'll take care of you myself. You hear?"
Dr. Leeds ambles back to his seat, his red velvet-stole draped over his black doctoral robes. Miss Janel, the choir director, approaches the dais. Mothers rub their babies' backs to keep them from crying. Sisters and brothers stop waving their balloons. Relatives stop calling out names of their graduates. Their voices trail off. "Terrelle, Rosita, Malik..."
Miss Janel's lone alto voice resonates through the hall. "When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high. And don't be afraid of the dark..."
Everyone stands. We join hands and sing along with her. Dr. Leeds gives the signal, and the graduates begin to stride slowly down the center aisle.
No pomp and circumstance. No hoots and hollers, merely the hushed bustle of shoes brushing the glossy hardwood floors and voices in synchrony singing "You'll Never Walk Alone.".
Purple and gold robes blur into sun and sky as the class of '93 marches out onto the city sidewalk and into the world.
Catherine DePino, Ed.D, has published 15 books about bullying, grammar/writing, spirituality, and women’s issues. Her background includes a BS in English and Spanish education, a master’s in English education, and a doctorate in Curriculum Theory and Development and Educational Administration from Temple University. The author worked for many years as a teacher, department head, and disciplinarian in the Philadelphia School District. After this, she worked at Temple as an adjunct assistant professor and student teaching supervisor. Catherine has also written articles for national magazines, including The Christian Science Monitor and The Writer. Her self-help book, Fire Up Your Life in Retirement: 101 Ways for Women to Reinvent Themselves, recently appeared on the market. Cool Things to Do If a Bully's Bugging You, debuted in 2016. Visit her website and contact her at www.catherinedepino.com.
A Place of Learning: A Teacher’s Story
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 124 Pages
Rating: Five Stars!
Reviewed by: Jonathan Dimmig
A Place of Learning was a very fun read. It provides a detailed look into the life of a teacher named Caterina, whose career path runs the gamut from rough-edged urban schools to a straight-laced academic magnet school.
Readers get a chance to find out exactly what it must be like to live the life of teacher. There are many highs and lows to Caterina’s story as she’s forced to deal with pressures from crazy parents, kids who are more interested in fighting than learning, and school administrators with impossible demands. She tackles each challenge differently and both her failures and successes showcase the balancing act that all teachers in this world must attempt to achieve.
Caterina’s passion for teaching in some of the toughest circumstances is simply amazing. Reader’s of DePino’s book will walk away with a true appreciation for what it takes to be a quality teacher in today’s society. I highly recommend A Place of Learning.
ALSO BY CATHERINE DEPINO
Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big Fat Loser
by Catherine DePino
by Catherine DePino
Manic Reader Review
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Total Score: 5/5
Nothing is worse than feeling you are all lone without anyone you can count on to have your back. Anyone who has experienced bullying in any way can understand exactly what Elliot was going through. It was difficult enough living in the funeral parlor that his father owned and ran, but being overweight just made things more difficult. Kyle, the school bully, and his gang were relentless and nothing Elliot did made them stop. If it wasn't for Roy, his best friend, and Duke the head custodian Elliot would have felt completely alone. Duke was determined to keep him safe where Kyle's good looks and manipulative behavior had most of the teachers believing he could do no wrong. It takes a strong person to stand up saying no more, but with the help of his friends Elliot may find a way to triumph.
This was a wonderful story about the difficulties of growing up and how one person can make a difference. Elliot didn't believe in himself until others stepped forward to support him even if it made them a target. It was ridiculous how Kyle thought that anyone, even Duke and the school principle, could be threatened by his parents if they attempted to make him face up the verbal and physical abuse against Elliot. This story should give hope that there are people out there who are willing to support and help anyone so please look around. There is light at the end of the tunnel as one who has overcome bullying so don't give up. Better days a head for you.
The kids at Ralph Bunche Middle School love to pick on Elliot Kravitz-Carnucci. He struggles with his weight, looks like a geek, makes top honors, and lives above the Carnucci Home for Funerals in South Philadelphia with his distant, workaholic father and Nonna, his quirky, overbearing grandmother. Since his parents divorced, he splits his time between living with his father and his mother Rayna, who dreams of becoming the queen of commercials, on the west coast. At the hands of his peers, Elliot experiences a series of bullying episodes that escalate from entrapment in a school supply closet to a brutal “swirly” (head dunk in the toilet) that lands him in the hospital emergency room. Can Elliot win his fight against the nasty bullies, or is he doomed forever? Read this funny, sad, and crazy book to find out.