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Dan Brown left the "blackboard jungle" to learn his craft at TC

Dan Brown left the “blackboard jungle” to learn his craft at TC

After college, Dan Brown was eager to teach in the inner city. He enrolled in an alternative certification program, and within weeks was handed his own classroom at an elementary school in the Bronx.

As Brown recounts in The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle, the experience proved so disastrous that after a year, he temporarily quit teaching. 

“I wanted to do a good job, but I didn’t know how,” Brown says. “My initial exposure through alternative certification instilled a raw desire in me to do the job, but not the tools for the craft. I just had my wits, and that was not enough—the classroom devolved into chaos.”  

After a year licking his wounds, Brown enrolled in the English Education master’s degree program at Teachers College.  In one class, he wrote a New Yorker-style profile of Linton Atkinson, a veteran teacher in East Harlem. “His students were raucous in other people’s classrooms, but with him, they were calm and receptive, because he had this quiet strength,” Brown recalls.  “He was mild-mannered and physically unimposing, but unrelenting in his commitment—the one-on-one sessions he conducted with students before and after school, the care he took in crafting lessons.”

The take-away: “It’s a myth that managing a classroom and delivering quality instruction are separate skills,” says Brown, now a National Board Certified Teacher in Washington, D.C. who mentors student teachers. “Understanding how to craft and deliver high-quality curriculum eradicates a huge amount of disruption, because if it’s good instruction, most kids will be on board.” 

Published Friday, Apr. 13, 2012