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OPRF teacher’s book aims to prepare future classroom leaders

Oak Park and River Forest High School physics teacher Aaron S. Podolner, 35, recently wrote a book, "How Would You Handle It? Questions for Teachers to Ask Themselves." | Photo submitted
Oak Park and River Forest High School physics teacher Aaron S. Podolner, 35, recently wrote a book, "How Would You Handle It? Questions for Teachers to Ask Themselves." | Photo submitted

Oak Park and River Forest High School physics teacher Aaron Podolner recently wrote a book, “How Would You Handle It? Questions for Teachers to Ask Themselves.”

The 162-page book addresses many of the relationship management issues teachers face with students, parents and co-workers.

Podolner in 2004 became the youngest recipient in the history of the Chicago area Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Education.

The 35-year-old father of three said the book was inspired by the interactions he had with future teachers during reflective seminars he led for nine years through the Golden Apple Foundation.

Podolner explained that his book can help teachers, especially those early in their careers.

Q: What inspired you to write the book?

A: The book began with a list of about 50 wild scenarios that I thought teachers should think about before they have their own classrooms, like when students ask about your past drug/alcohol use, a parent denies that their kid could do something wrong, or an administrator (is) flirting with you. That list grew and grew as I thought of more aspects of a career in education that deserved contemplation.

Initially, I intended for the book to consist solely of random questions, but early readers thought that it needed to be organized by topic. I ultimately agreed with their suggestion and wrote little introductions to each chapter, weaving my own teaching experience into arguments for why each area of reflection was important.

Q: Why do you think there is this shortcoming in teaching these practical matters and what can be done to correct that at the teacher-education level?

A: To some extent, I think teachers want their students to be like them. An English teacher might want her students to be able to analyze a literary work like an English major would, and an art teacher may aim to have his students discuss a great painting just like he would at a gallery opening.

I think college professors are no different. One of their aims is for future teachers to be able to do scholarship in the field of education, like them. Unfortunately, that leads to a history and theory-based education that doesn’t meet everyone’s needs.

Q: What are some of the most surprising issues you address in the book?

A: I used the book throughout this last summer with a variety of future teachers. The topics that surprised them the most were acts of defiance by students: leaving the class when a teacher said “no,” not stopping an offensive activity after several thoughtful interventions, or having a student committed to making the teacher’s life miserable, and sexual issues, masturbating students, inappropriate touching and comments.

Q: In what way do you expect this book to be used?

A: I think the best way to use this book is within a college or university-based teacher preparation program. It can be used to generate productive discussions in just about every class, and professors can tie the questions to educational theory, history and their own teaching experience. Ideally, it could lead to a style of teaching that educational researchers often champion: progressivism, in which the students themselves decide what they want to learn about.

I think in-service teachers will find the book helpful for refreshing their take on the classroom experience by forcing them to think about the myriad choices they make. In the book, I stress that there are many justifiable courses of action that a teacher can take, but they should be rooted in a personal philosophy that is thoughtful and oriented toward helping children.

Lastly, I can see it being useful for people considering a career in teaching because the book is a good window into the complexity of modern teaching. Some might find that complexity to be inspiring, and for others, it may be overwhelming.

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