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Book Reviews

Grading the Teacher: A Parent’s Guide

by Nellie Jacobs

Awakening Brilliance: How to Inspire Children to Become Successful Learners

by Pamela Sims

The classroom teacher is by far the most important factor in a child’s schooling. Despite all efforts to marginalize them as “facilitators,” teachers retain the power to save lives, to permanently improve young minds, or to stunt their growth. Given their enormous influence, how do we assess what kind of job they’re doing with our kids?

Nellie Jacobs’ Grading the Teacher attempts to address these concerns. No book on the subject could possibly please everybody, but Jacobs conscientiously pursues a fair, balanced approach. By way of credentials, we are told that she taught kindergarten for several years before raising four children, and produced the newsletter for MAMMA (Modern Activities for Mothers’ Mental Awareness), the non-profit organization she co-founded.

Grading the Teacher includes a “report card” for parents to use, although some may object to the fact that out of a possible total of 50, teachers can score up to 20 points for having the right attitude, but only two points for possessing a thorough knowledge of their subject. Jacobs admits that parents need students’ help to fill out the report, but research shows that student surveys tend to be very unreliable. To give meaningful results, the report would have to be filled out anonymously by every student in the class, preferably by every class in the school.

Aimed at parents in every part of Canada, whether their children attend private school or public, elementary or secondary, Grading the Teacher covers a lot of ground but doesn’t dig very deeply. Awakening Brilliance, on the other hand, while also written by a Canadian, lists mostly U.S. publications and organizations, because it is part of the American Awakening the Love of Learning series.

The focus of Awakening Brilliance is on turning good teachers into great teachers. Toronto educator Pamela Sims urges teachers to identify and accommodate the learning styles of three types of students: visual learners; auditory learners; and “kinesthetic” learners, who learn best hands-on.

Written in the form of a novel, but catalogued under “case studies,” Awakening Brilliance is a mixture of fact and fiction. Sims has taken true student stories and woven them into the inspirational tale of a first-year elementary school principal named Jane. She is discouraged by low staff morale, poor student performance, and behavioural problems when she meets a retired teacher named Sarah who inspires her to turn things around. Through caring and sharing, in the space of four months Jane transforms her school into a joyful place where teachers engage in group hugs and students are excited about going to class. The characters are two-dimensional, the story is trite, and the happy ending strains credibility, but perhaps you don’t have to be brilliant to awaken brilliance in others.

Although Grading the Teacher is for parents and Awakening Brilliance primarily for elementary school teachers, their greatest appeal may be to education administrators. Both books contain useful information, but give the impression that if teachers care enough, students will excel no matter how inadequate the curriculum or the supply of materials. Targeting the teacher lets the higher-ups off the hook.


Reviewer: Martha Harron

Publisher: Viking/Penguin


Price: $19.99

Page Count: 256 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-14-025612-1

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 1996-10

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs

Reviewer: Martha Harron

Publisher: index


Price: $19.99

Page Count: 224 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-896766-00-5

Released: Bayhampton

Issue Date: October 1, 1996

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs