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Teachers College, Columbia University
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A Year in the Blackboard Jungle

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TC student Dan Brown

Like many of his fellow first-year students at TC, Dan Brown has some previous teaching experience under his belt, in his case with a group of difficult fourth graders at P.S. 85 in the Bronx. But unlike them, Brown, who is enrolled in TC’s Teaching of English program, has written a bestselling book about it, The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the Blackboard Jungle.

As he movingly describes in the book—which earned him, among other things, the chance to speak on NPR with his hero, Jonathan Kozol—Brown was left so drained and disillusioned by that year that he took the next one off. The low point came when the parents of his favorite student, a girl named Sonandia, asked to have her transferred to another teacher because Brown had lost control of his class. The high point came almost immediately afterward, when Sonandia refused to go, sobbing, “I don’t want to leave Mr. Brown.”

“She was my beacon, even in the most brutal moments,” said Brown, who now teaches at the Isaac Newton Middle School in East Harlem, when he gave readings in Milbank Chapel and the Gottesman Libraries this past fall. “If she was learning, it was all worth it.”

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