'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
BOOK REVIEW: A TEACHER’S GRATUITOUS HONESTY
This is something new, as I’ve never done a book review before. (Go ahead, say it: “Hey Dunn, first you gotta read a book before you can review a book!” Very funny. Ha ha.)
No, I actually read a book this summer, and I thought it was terrific. The book is titled “SH*T A TEACHER THINKS (AND SOMETIMES SAYS).” It was written by Paul Bentley, who taught English for 32 years in a suburban high school in northwest Connecticut. During his last year of teaching before retiring a few years ago, Bentley took notes each day, recording the happenings in his classroom. The result is a chronicle of an academic year that is at times funny and infuriating, depressing and inspiring.
The book is organized with each month from September to June being a chapter. As I began reading, I was a little shocked by what seemed to be gratuitous profanity. It’s not that Bentley routinely swore in the classroom. But the book not only records what the students said and did each day, it also records Bentley’s private thoughts in response to the controlled chaos known as a public high school in the 21st century.
He pulls no punches in describing the students he taught, the administrators he tried to avoid, and the parents, some of whom were so clueless it boggles the mind. Many of the unmotivated, narcissistic students are referred to as “zero-liners” and “turdwads.” The often vindictive administrators are called “over-degreed bastards” and “fart twangers.” The irresponsible parents who instilled an attitude of arrogant entitlement in their bratty teenagers were simply “lettuce heads.” (These are the PG-rated labels. More interesting and humorous R-rated descriptions can be found on virtually every page.)
The more I continued to read, the more I realized Bentley was not using gratuitous profanity, he was using gratuitous honesty. You see, there are a few different definitions of the word gratuitous. One is: “Being without apparent reason, cause, or justification: a gratuitous insult.”
But there’s another definition of the word: “Given, done, bestowed, or obtained without charge or payment; free; voluntary.” In his book, Bentley freely gives the whole story. He doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of high school life so the book will have a respectable PG rating. (Not that books get movie ratings, of course, but you know what I mean.) He tells the unvarnished truth, even if at times it portrays the students, parents, administrators, other teachers, and even himself, in a less than flattering light. The stark honesty is disconcerting at first, but ultimately quite refreshing.
The book also helped me deal with a personal issue. I admit that every summer I get jealous of teachers, who are in the middle of their nine-week vacation, while I’m trying to decide when to use my nine DAYS of annual vacation time. Bentley did such a good job of putting the reader right in the trenches of the day-to-day classroom environment, it is clear the profession can be a soul-sucking, ulcer-inducing, bureaucratic ordeal. In other words, the book was a good reality check for “the grass is always greener” syndrome.
“SH*T A TEACHER THINKS” is witty and honest. Despite the sarcasm, it is obvious Bentley really cared about his students and enjoyed teaching those willing to learn. It’s a fun read and a real eye-opener. You can order the book at Amazon.com for only $11.99. I highly recommend it, and give it two thumbs up. (Bentley probably would observe, “My students give it two middle fingers up.”)
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