Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Listen to Your Kids - A Great Book for All Teachers


I am often solicited with offers of free education books in exchange for reviews. Most of them I turn down for two reasons. First, I don’t have time to read that many books. Second, a lot of education books are focused on methodology that works in an “ideal” situation that isn’t the reality of what many teachers face. Tom Harvey’s new book, Listen to Your Kids, breaks that mold. Listen to Your Kids presents a message and methodology that are practical for all teachers regardless of what subject they teach, regardless of the age of their students, and regardless of the socio-economic backgrounds of their students. Tom Harvey’s book also breaks the mold of education books that I’ve read in the last few years because I actually cracked open my wallet to buy a copy for myself.


For background and full disclosure, Tom Harvey is a former colleague of mine at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. I had the pleasure of having lunch with him on a nearly daily basis for a few years before he retired in 2007. If you ask him what he taught, he’ll tell you “kids.” For those who care about content area, Tom taught English. In his retirement he wrote and published Listen to Your Kids. A week before Christmas I sat down with Tom to talk about his book.

Throughout Listen to Your Kids Tom Harvey uses the term “McEducation” to describe the state of public school education today. McEducation is the idea that schools are offering limited menus in a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and testing. The pressure from the top from administrators, school boards, or politicians to have every student performing at the same level at the the same time on the same test has created McEducation. When I asked Tom for his solution to this problem, as you might guess,  he suggested spending time getting to know your students by listening to them and their problems.

In my experience “getting to know” our students is something that happens during the first couple of days of the school year when teachers roll out all of the camp games and other ice-breakers that we’ve picked up over the years. But when the pressures from managers of McEducation start to hit us, those “getting-to-know-you” activities disappear. As evidenced by the numerous stories in Listen to Your Kids, stories written by some of his former students by the way, Tom Harvey made every day a “getting-to-know-you” activity through out the year. As a case in point, consider this quote from one his former students:
“I miss you, I’ve been thinking about all I learned from you, and to be truthful, the English was secondary. Thanks for being a life teacher, for encouraging individuality and kindness. You are a great man.”

Listen to Your Kids is chock-full of wonderful stories from Tom, his former students, the parents of those former students, and his former colleagues. The story from his former colleague Sally Jones of seeing Tom strapped into a wheelchair by his students and raced down the hallway will bring you a chuckle. And the story of a boy named Duke who went from hating school and planning to drop-out to graduating from high school with honor roll grades will remind all educators why they entered the profession.  

As any good education book does, Listen to Your Kids offers advice on how to do what is modeled in the book. At this point you might be thinking, “Yeah, Richard, I’ve got it. Listen to your kids.” While most of us can hear, listening is a skill that not everyone who can hear has. In a two page chapter Tom provides clear directions on how to teach yourself and your students to really listen to each other.

Listen to Your Kids is subtitled Solutions for Distraught Teachers and Parents. I would argue, and I think that after reading it you will too, that the subtitle should be A Solution for Distraught Teachers and Parents. The solution to so many of the problems facing educators and parents today can be found in the title of Mr. Harvey’s book. On the surface the solution is simple. It’s a solution that all educators can support. However, when the pressures of politicians, school administrators, and other “stake-holders” push into our classrooms this simple solution is easy to forget. Through Tom Harvey’s stories accumulated over 34 years in the classrooms, the stories of his former students, and the stories of the parents of his former students we will all be reminded of the simple solution to so many problems in education, Listen to Your Kids.

Yes, Listen to Your Kids offers practical advice for educators and parents. Beyond that, it is a heart-warming collection of stories that will remind all educators why they entered the profession. The next time you’re feeling “burned out” or otherwise stressed about teaching, open to appendix A of Listen to Your Kids, read the stories that students sent to Tom, and have your spirits renewed.

You can connect with Tom through the Listen to Your Kids Facebook page or through the Listen to Your Kids blog.

You can buy Listen to Your Kids online through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Or ask your local bookstore to get a copy for you.