Una Entrevista con Roy Lotz

Una Entrevista con Roy Lotz

After completing several interviews with my coworkers, they suggested that somebody interview me. Initially I resisted the idea. But when the wonderful Rebeca López offered to do the interview in Spanish (and then edit it so that I don’t sound like a complete dunce) I said vamos. Here it is:


Pregunta: Bueno, Roy, ¿has sido entrevistado antes?

Respuesta: Tres veces. Una vez, en la universidad, acerca de la música que hacía; otra vez, por Skype, sobre libros; y la última vez fue para el blog de una amiga, sobre mi vida en España.

P: ¿Te gusta que te entrevisten?

R: Sí, me gusta mucho hablar de mí. (risas)

P: Cuéntanos un poco sobre ti: de dónde vienes, qué estudiaste, tus hobbies…

R: Soy de Sleepy Hollow, un pueblo bastante pequeño en el norte de Nueva York, más o menos a hora en tren hasta Manhattan. Es un pueblo famoso por la leyenda del jinete sin cabeza, escrita por Washington Irving, que está enterrado en el famoso cementerio de Sleepy Hollow, a diez minutos de mi casa. Es interesante porque este hombre vivió también en España y visitó y escribió sobre la Alhambra. Para mí es interesante porque es como mi guía, ¿sabes? porque soy de su pueblo y ahora estoy en España y no puedo escapar de él.

P: Claro, porque ahora vives en España, ¿verdad?

R: Sí. Vivo en Madrid. Viví en Sleepy Hollow toda mi juventud, estudié en Stony Brook University antropología, aunque mi plan original era estudiar química. Sin embargo, aunque creo que la química es muy interesante, es algo muy abstracto y para mí era mucho más interesante aprender cómo vivía la gente en otras partes del mundo porque no sabía nada de esto. Crecí en Nueva York, fui a una universidad en Nueva York, estaba muy en mi mundo. Era como una revelación saber que había gente viviendo en la selva de Brasil, por ejemplo, o conocer tantas diferencias entre las costumbres de la cultura. Estudié antropología y fui de viaje académico a Kenia a estudiar la evolución humana a Turkana Basin, que es una escuela dirigida por la familia Leakey, una familia muy famosa dentro del mundo de la antropología, porque descubrieron muchos fósiles importantes.

P: ¿Cuánto tiempo estuviste en Kenia?

R: Tres meses. Y luego fui a Tanzania, que está también en el este de África, al sur de Kenia, y fui para estudiar la cultura, aprender un poco de Swahili, que es un idioma muy bonito, y ver a los animales. Al final hice una tesis sobre la música del este de África, leí un montón de artículos y libros, escribí un trabajo, hice una presentación, y… ya está.

P: ¿Cuáles son tus hobbies?

R: Me gusta mucho leer y escribir. Toco la guitarra, canto también, tengo un blog, obviamente (risas)… me gusta mucho andar… Me gusta mucho, sobre todo, aprender.

P: ¿Y por qué decidiste venir a España?

R: Estaba trabajando en Nueva York, en Manhattan, y para mí era algo muy aburrido, porque después de graduarme en la universidad fui a estudiar un doctorado, pero no estaba preparado para hacer algo tan duro, algo tan serio… tampoco había mucho trabajo, pero empecé a trabajar en el primero que pude encontrar. Era solo por hacer algo, no por interés. No estaba mal, pero no me interesaba, no era algo especial para mí. Al año y poco estaba harto de trabajar, no le vi el sentido de seguir haciendo esto. Quise escapar y hacer algo diferente, como romper mi rutina. Descubrir lo que quería hacer de verdad en mi vida. Mi plan inicial era ir a Alemania, porque había estudiado alemán en la universidad y me interesaba mucho la cultura, pero es bastante difícil ir a Alemania por el visado. Mi exnovia quiso ir a España, y entonces descubrí que era mucho más fácil ir a este país que a Alemania, por lo que decidí ir con ella. También, hay mucha gente en Nueva York que habla español y quería aprender este idioma.

P: ¿A qué te dedicas? ¿Es este el trabajo de tus sueños?

R: Ahora soy asistente en un instituto en Rivas-Vaciamadrid. Aunque me gusta mucho enseñar, este no es el trabajo de mis sueños. Primero preferiría tener más poder en mis clases y no ser asistente, pero tengo que admitir que no sé muy bien cómo controlar las clases. Idealmente yo sería escritor. ¿Escritor de qué? No sé, pero me gusta mucho escribir. Puedo escribir todos los días y, no sé… para mí es mi vocación.

P: ¿Qué diferencias hay entre el sistema educativo español y el americano?

R: Hay muchísimas. Por ejemplo, en mi páis llamamos a los profes “mister” o “miss” y sus apellidos, no sus nombres. Yo creo que hay más respeto por eso, es desigual el status de los profes y de los alumnos. Lo peor es que en mi país no aprendemos muy bien idiomas extranjeros normalmente. No tenemos un programa bilingüe muy fuerte y somos muy monolingües.

P: ¿Y las universidades?

R: Las universidades son muy diferentes, porque son mucho más caras y vivimos ahí normalmente. Es un poco raro vivir con los padres cuando estás en la universidad. Ir a la universidad para nosotros es un paso muy importante, porque es cuando te descubres a ti mismo, bebes con tus amigos, haces cosas locas, no tienes responsabilidades, descubres tus intereses…

P: ¿Qué es lo más complicado de vivir en un país extranjero?

R: Tienes que hacer muchas cosas sobre el visado, y si no lo haces bien estás jodido, básicamente. Tienes que tener mucho cuidado con estas cosas: los documentos, las renovaciones, las citas… es muy fácil no hacerlo bien.

P: ¿Tuviste problemas con el idioma?

R: Sí, al principio era difícil encontrar un piso y hacer amigos y esas cosas, porque no hablaba español, pero me motivaba mucho esto porque es como descubrir un lado nuevo de mí dentro del idioma. Puedo ser un niño otra vez y descubrir el mundo otra vez, dentro del español. Para mí era algo muy interesante aprender este idioma… es algo difícil pero hay que verlo como un reto y una oportunidad y no como un obstáculo. Sí es un obstáculo, pero aprender otro idioma abre muchas puertas y es como si pudieras ser una persona nueva y conocer otro mundo que no pudiste antes. El idioma no fue algo muy duro para mí, aunque me costó aprenderlo, lo vi como una oportunidad. También, cuando estás en un país extranjero es como que vives ahí pero no vives ahí… haces amigos, pero ¿amigos de cuánto tiempo? Y echas de menos a tu familia y es difícil invertir en la vida, porque es una vida semipermanente.

P: ¿Qué es lo que más echas de menos de EEUU?

R: A mi familia, a mis amigos… también lo que echo de menos es el sentimiento de estar absolutamente cómodo y entendido. Ser tú mismo sin ser forzado.

P: Bueno, como has mencionado antes, te gusta mucho leer. ¿Cómo comenzó esa inquietud?

R: No me gustaba leer en el insti, pero mi primer año en la universidad tuve unas clases en las que tuve que leer muchos libros y me gustó mucho, porque sentí que estaba aprendiendo muy rápidamente y mi mente y mi perspectiva estaban creciendo. Descubrí que los libros son un mundo sin límites, porque hay de antropología, literatura, filosofía, geografía, viajes… sobre cada tema que puedas imaginar hay un libro, y para mí está relacionado con el deseo de viajar, es el deseo que me permite expandir los límites de mi mundo, porque cada libro es como una ventana a un mundo nuevo.

P: ¿Cuál es tu definición de “libro bueno”?

R: Para mí un libro bueno es un libro que te hace pensar en una forma en la que nunca habías pensado antes. Por ejemplo, los libros de Platón o de Spinoza o Shakespeare. Hay libros ricos, tienen mucha capacidad de hacerte pensar… quizás no tienen razón, pero para decidir si tienen razón o no tienes que pensar sobre una pregunta en la que nunca habías reflexionado antes. Para mí, es sobre las preguntas. Los libros buenos intentan responder a preguntas importantes y que siempre tendrán esta importancia.

P: ¿Qué libro me recomendaría si quisiera iniciarme en el mundo de la filosofía?

R: La Republica, de Platón. Platón es muy fácil de leer. Este libro está relacionado con todo y cada libro de filosofía escrito posteriormente es una respuesta a Platón. Tiene epistemología, lógica, justicia, ética, estética… es un libro muy completo.

P: Por último, ¿cómo te imaginas tu vida dentro de diez años?

R: No tengo ni idea. Me gustaría ser un escritor famosísimo y tener millones de dólares (risas) y haber viajado a Rusia, China, América Latina… tener un perro, criados en una mansión… no sé

Diego Cruz: Conversation Assistant

Diego Cruz: Conversation Assistant

I have been working alongside Diego for two years now. When I first met him he was straight out of college—a frat boy without his frat, living all the way out in Arganda del Rey, a quiet town far from the center of Madrid. It was obviously a new experience for him. And he adapted admirably: growing more confident, more independent, and more empathetic to others in the process. Far more than two years seem to have elapsed between the Diego I first met and the Diego I know now. He recently took some time to sit down with me and share some of his story:


R: How are you feeling?

D: Feeling pretty good, kinda nervous. It’s weird, you know, having your friend interview you.

R: Have you been interviewed before?

D: Only professional interviews.

R: Tell me about your background—your family, your education, your hobbies, and so on.

D: Okey dokey. My dad is Mexican, born in Mexico. He moved to Los Angeles in the late seventies. My mom was born in America but she’s of Armenian-Spanish descent. And she grew up in Spain, in orphanages. I identify myself as a chicano. I grew up with a bunch of latinos in my community. So I always thought I was Mexican. I was born in East LA but I lived my whole life in South Gate, California.

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I went to university to UC Santa Barbara, and I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. I came to Spain right after that. My hobbies? I like to go to the gym, I like to play soccer, I like to be with my friends. Sometimes write, sometimes read, you know.

R: How did you decide to come to Spain?

D: Alright, so my brother forced me to come to Spain. My brother Rafael was like, “Hey fool you got really bad grades in university so you gotta do something spectacular.” So he was like, “You should do this program.” So for a year and a half or so I was thinking about going to Spain. And then the time came to apply and I barely made it on the deadline and I was told in August that I got in.

R: In August? [The program begins in October.]

D: Yeah, so I had to do everything super fast before I came mid-September.

R: What were some of the challenges of moving to Spain?

D: So the challenges were raising the money, saving up the money to buy the tickets and for rent, security deposit, food. Then eventually it was just saying goodbye to your family and friends. Some friends don’t understand that it’s something you have to do for yourself. Some friends just forget about you. But my family is there for me, so that’s what matters the most.

R: How did you raise money?

D: I worked, I was working as a referee, I was washing dishes. And my mom hooked me up with some money, too, so I was really lucky with my mom.

R: And what about the visa process?

D: That shit was wack. Everything was new to me. You know, my dad came to the States and he got his citizenship. So I thought, “If this fool can get a citizenship then I can get my visa.” So the paperwork took me like three or four weeks. I did some of the things wrong so I had to redo it several times. And so I wasted like 300 bucks.

R: Tell me about your job as an auxiliar—your schedule, your duties, your role in the classroom.

D: Well, I work 16 hours a week, but I’m here for like twenty-something. [We have breaks between classes that adds to the time at high school.] My role is to assist the teacher. But as a second-year now, I’m leading the class and I’m lecturing. I’d say about half of the time I’m lecturing and the other half I’m with the students, with groups of four, talking. I feel we have a specific role in the classroom, because we’re obviously younger than the teachers, so we become this bridge with the students and the teachers. And sometimes the teachers come down on the students hard, so you kinda have to go to the student and tell them what’s good. You’re like, “Hey, the teacher is being a little harsh, but you gotta understand that these are the rules.” So you just try to help them figure it out. That’s how I see myself.

R: What are some of the challenges of being an auxiliar?

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D: Upholding the expectations, meeting the expectations of the teachers. Because last year some of the expectations weren’t that clear, you know. So you don’t know if you’re doing a good job or not. But this year I’m doing a lot better, I have better communication with my teachers. So the challenges might be that the students just wanna keep talking to you, and you gotta be like “Hey, now it’s time to do classwork.” Last year it was a struggle to keep them attentive, but this year I’ve been doing a good job of keeping them focused in class, helping them out with their work.

R: How would you compare the education system here to ours in the States?

D: So here I think it’s a little bit too lenient. A five [out of ten] is still passing. And to me that’s failure, you know. You did half of the work wrong. So I don’t see how that’s considered passing. And I also think the students repeat too much. [As in, students are held back because they failed.] You have twenty-year-olds graduating from high school. I think it’s too easy to repeat, it’s done too frequently. But I think the issue is because they have too many subjects, they have eleven subjects in the semester. Back in the States we only had to take six or seven. They’re focusing too much on too many. So it’s too much for the kids and that’s when they start messing up in school, they start not caring in class, they start missing school.

Classroom management is too lenient, too. Some of the teachers are really strict but some other teachers just let the kids talk, and the kids are talking and talking and chit chatting. I think they send out the kids too much. [As in, send the kids out in the hallway when they’re misbehaving.] I don’t know if they should be disciplined or what, but they don’t know respect and a lot of them don’t have that respect towards the teachers. I’m pretty well respected but even if I tell them to be quiet they will just keep talking and chit chatting.

R: What do you plan on doing when you leave Spain?

D: I wanna start getting my coaching license. I want to work with professional soccer teams or college soccer teams. If I fail in doing something with soccer I’ll do something with any type of sport. And if I fail at that, I’ll become a gym teacher. But I’ll be a good gym teacher, I’ll try hard, do my thing. But I definitely want to to something with sports after Spain.

R: How do you think you’ll look back on this experience in 10 years?

D: I think 10 years from now Diego will be really happy with this Diego. I tell this to my friends, in university I was a cool guy and people liked me, but I felt like I was a loser. I wasn’t responsible, I didn’t handle my scandal, you know. I was just a loser, you know. Yeah I had friends and I know people loved me but the way I was, that was some loser stuff. And I’m really proud that when I’ve been here, I’ve been more responsible and I’ve managed to change, to live a healthier lifestyle, to be more optimistic about life. It’s just given me a brand new type of identity. Or it’s reinforced my identity and I’ve become stronger. So I feel that ten years from now I’ll be really proud of that, that I was able to leave everything back home and come to Spain, give it my all, and be the person I would eventually become. I’ll be really happy, I’ll be really content with this Diego.

R: So you think it’s important in your development?

D: Oh yeah, I already know it’s super important. For the person who I wish to become, who I want to become, who I will become.

R: Well that’s all my question. Anything else?

D: Well I want to say that, at first I thought Roy was wack, but then he’s a great guy.

A Conversation with a Historian

A Conversation with a Historian

I have been working with Carlos Lázaro for two years now, as an assistant in his history lessons. His class is inevitably enjoyable. Students who, in other classes, are noisy and disruptive act respectfully and dutifully in Carlos’s classroom. Indeed, the students are so assiduous about taking notes that it can be hard to get them to stop.

The high school in which I work is “bilingual,” which means that some subjects, such as history, are taught in English. Carlos is the head of the school’s history department. Together we work with students in 2º ESO, which is equivalent to America’s eighth grade. The curriculum we follow is, in many ways, strikingly different from the sorts of stuff we learned in my high school in New York. Most notably (for me at least) are the lengthy units on art history—architecture, sculpture, painting. Our textbooks in the states mainly focused on social, economic, and political history.

In addition to his job as a teacher, Carlos is an accomplished academic and author, having written several books. I sat down with him one day to ask him about his work and life.


ROY: Have you ever done an interview before?

CARLOS: No.

R: Really?

C: No, no, not in English. Though I was interviewed on Spanish television, TVE1.

R: Tell me about your education. What subjects did you study?

C: I grew up in a working class neighborhood in the southwest of Madrid. A very violent neighborhood with a lot of drugs. Carabanchel Alto, it’s called. It had one of the biggest prisons in Spain. I went to a religious school for my whole primary and secondary education. But as early as middle school I was interested in history. When I was a kid I learned to read and write through history books that I got from my older schoolmates. Yes, I love history and this is the reason I was interested.

Originally, I was more interested in ancient history—Rome, Greece, Ancient Egypt. But when I got to university I changed my interest to Native American anthropology. In fact I got a PhD in this subject. My thesis was related to the tribes that refused or expelled the Spanish conquerors. I was specialized in the Chilean Mapuche. But my final book in anthropology was related with the treaties that the Spanish Crown signed with Native American tribes, covering about 200 signed agreements. I saw the original documents in the archives, both here in Spain and in the Americas.

R: How did you get interested in aviation history?

C: In the university I met former Republican fighter pilots, and it was an overwhelming experience for me. But I had been interested in aviation long before that. For 24 years I had lived near a military airfield, watching the planes take off and land. So when I met these pilots I got so excited about the histories of their lives. They had fought in the Spanish Civil War and they explained what they did afterwards. For example, some of them fled to the Soviet Union after the war. Some went to the United States or to Mexico, and also, in some cases, were in prison. It was, as I said, overwhelming for me, so from this moment onwards I began to do research about them.

R: Tell me about some of your books. What are they about? Why did you choose those topics?

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The space suit designed by Emilio Herrerra

C: The book I’m working on now is a collection of memoirs of pilots—foreign and Spanish—who fought in the Civil War. But with one main goal. Our main problem in teaching history, not only aviation history but in general, is that we don’t have titles like “A Brief History of the Spanish Civil War” or “A Brief History of Aerial Warfare in the Spanish Civil War.” So I’m trying to provide people with these memoirs in order to be able to hook the public’s interest. This is the same thing I do with my teaching, to try to hook my students on history.

I have written 10 books. Three of them were about anthropology and the rest are about aviation history. My most beloved book is a biography of Emilio Herrera, a Spanish engineer who designed, in 1934, the first space suit in history, designed for a high altitude balloon flight. He was both a pilot and a scientist, and was in contact with Einstein and von Braun. I also wrote a book about a pilot, a Republican pilot. My personal goal, as I said, is to popularize aviation history and also to make it available in both Spanish and English, a bilingual version, for the many English and Americans who are interested in this history. As you know we are sitting near the battleground of the Battle of Jarama (a battle in the Spanish Civil War), and not every American knows that there were American pilots fighting in this battle.

R: What brought you to teaching?

C: Well, I like explaining and summarizing historical events—and I like history, of course—so, this is the reason that I got my PhD and also took the oposiciones (the required state exam that all public servants must take) in order to get my teaching position. My teaching definitely helps my writing, and vice versa. Every day I try to improve what I’m doing, reviewing my classes in order see what works and what doesn’t. Presenting information accessibly in my books helps me do the same in class; and my students’ reactions help me decide how to present information in my books.

R: What are some challenges of teaching history? How do you deal with them?

C: I think the most difficult challenge of teaching history is providing students with accessible information. Making it accessible. I think that history couldn’t be “unverbal,” and thus couldn’t be, in a sense, boring. You need to be patient, giving them tips, clearly organized topics. Summarize as much as possible: don’t try to fill their brains with data because they are going to erase everything when they leave the classroom. I’m trying to get my students to love something about their past.

R: What are some tips you have for history teachers?

C: Define your goals. Strive towards these goals. Provide your students with accessible information—and most of all, information that is useful in their daily lives. Old pupils have gotten in contact with me, and say they love history because it has been so useful for them—reading books, traveling, visiting museums, something like that. When I was teaching in a village in Toledo we made a trip to an old airfield that was nearby, and I explained how it was used during the war. It was an extraordinary experience for them. They had no idea it was there.

Besides giving lectures, it’s great to have the students do research and give presentations. Also different media are useful. For example today I showed them a short documentary about the Renaissance. Jokes, anecdotes, and open-ended questions are good for engaging their attention. Try not to be monotonous.

R: How do you get your students to work so well?

C: It’s a mixture of mastering them, being tough in some cases, and in other cases giving them self-confidence. Some students are not self-confident, and you need to show them that they have a lot of interesting things to work with. In the beginning of the year it’s important to go over classroom rules—sitting properly, raising your hand, taking notes. Establish very clear rules from the very beginning.

R: How is teaching history important for society in general?

C: Someone* once said, “People who forget their past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s a good way to learn about our mistakes, to think about what happened in the past, to try to avoid the same problems and avoid risks in the future.

R: Why do you think many people find history boring?

C: I think because, for them, history is repeating facts and not thinking. And of course in some cases you need to learn the names of battles and so on. But history is, fundamentally, a way of thinking, a way of organizing your brain, so that you can understand what happened in the past.

But for many students history is just a pile of dates, names, battles, events, nothing useful for their lives. I’m trying to provide them with another face of history. How could history help them? What does history teach us? Why did our ancestors face these problems? And what solutions did they find? What lessons do these have for the new problems we will face in the future?

To hook their interest it helps to explain something to do with their behavior or their language that they use in their daily lives. For example there is a Spanish word “flipado” that is like “dizzy,” which comes from the English word “flip.” This was a drink that buccaneers drank, a kind of alcoholic mixture. So this common Spanish words has this English origin, and most of my students have no idea. This is a small example of how history can explain our daily reality.


*George Santayana is the originator of the English quote, “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat it.” The nearly identical Spanish phrase “Los pueblos que olvidan su historia están condenado a repetirla,” is attributed to Nicholás Avellaneda, who is said to have taken it from Cicero.

Review: Tools for Teaching

Review: Tools for Teaching

Tools for Teaching: Discipline, Instruction, Motivation.  Primary Prevention of Classroom Discipline ProblemsTools for Teaching: Discipline, Instruction, Motivation. Primary Prevention of Classroom Discipline Problems by Fredric H. Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever looked at the work kids turn in these days and wondered, “What will happen to this country in the next 50 years?” When you watch Larry sharpen his pencil, you know that the future is in good hands. It’s inspirational.

Last year I switched from teaching adults to teaching teenagers. Though I’m still teaching English, the job could hardly be more different. With adults, I could focus entirely on content; my students were mature, intelligent, and motivated, so I could think exclusively about what to teach them, and how. With kids, I am dealing with a classroom full of energetic, distracted, unruly, loud, and sometimes obnoxious humans whose main motivation is not to fail the upcoming exam. They’re not there because they want to be, and they would always inevitably rather be doing something else.

This probably makes me sound jaded and disenchanted (and I hasten to add that I actually have a lot more fun teaching kids, and my students are great, I swear!); but the fact is inescapable: when you’re teaching in a school setting, you need to worry about classroom management. Either you will control the kids, or they will control you.

It is the hope of every beginning teacher, myself included, to manage through instruction. We all begin with the same dream: to create lessons so dynamic, so enriching, so brilliant, and to teach with such charisma and compassion, that misbehavior isn’t a problem. But this doesn’t work, for two obvious reasons. For one, we don’t have unlimited control of the curriculum; to the contrary, our room to maneuver is often quite limited. And even with complete autonomy, having interesting lessons would be no guarantee of participation or attention, since it only takes one bored student to disrupt, and only one disruption to derail a lesson.

Even if you’re Socrates, disruptions will happen. When they do, in the absence of any plan, you will end up falling back on your instincts. The problem is that your instincts are probably bad. I know this well, both from experience and observation. Our impulsive reaction is usually to nag, to argue, to preach, to bargain, to threaten, to cajole—in other words, to flap our mouths in futility until we finally get angry, snap, yell, and then repeat the process.

But no amount of nagging creates a motivated classroom; and no amount of speeches—about the value of education, the importance of respect, or the relevance of the lesson to one’s future—will produce interested and engaged students. In short, our instinctual response is inefficient, ineffective, and stressful for both teacher and students. (Again, I know this both from experience and observation.)

Some strategies are therefore needed to keep the kids settled and on task. And since teachers are chronically overworked as it is—the endless grading and planning, not to mention the physical strain of standing in front of classes all day—these strategies must be neither too complex nor too expensive. To the contrary, they must be relatively straightforward to implement, and they must save time in the long run.

This is where Fred Jones comes in. Fred Jones is the Isaac Newton of classroom management. This book is nothing less than a fully worked out strategy for controlling a room full of young people. This system, according to him, is the result of many hundreds of hours of observing effective and ineffective teachers, trying to analyze what the “natural” teachers did right and the “unnatural” teachers wrong, and to put it all together into a system. And it really is systematic: every part fits into every part, interlocking like the gears of a bicycle.

This makes the book somewhat difficult to summarize, since it is not a bag of tricks to add to your repertoire. Indeed, its main limitation—especially for me, since I’m just assistant who goes from class to class—is that his strategies cannot be implemented piecemeal. They work together, or they don’t work. As a pedagogical nomad who merely helps out, I am not really in a position to put this book into practice, so I cannot personally vouch for it.

Despite this, Jones manages to be utterly convincing. The book is so full of anecdotes, insights, and explanations that were immediately familiar that it seemed as if he was spying on my own classrooms. Unlike so many books on education, which offer ringing phrases and high-minded idealism, this book deals with the nitty-gritty reality of being a teacher: the challenges, frustrations, and the stress.

The main challenge of classroom management—the problem that dwarfs all others—is to eliminate talking to neighbors. Kids like to talk, and they will talk: when they’re supposed to be listening, when they should be working, whenever they think they can get away with it. This is only natural. And with the conventional classroom approach—standing in the front and lecturing, snarling whenever the kids in the back are too loud—talking to neighbors is inevitable, since the teacher is physically distant, and the kids have nothing else to do.

Jones begins by suggesting board work: an activity that each student must start at the beginning of class, something handed out or written on the board, to eliminate the usual chaos that attends the beginning of the lesson. He then goes into detail about how the classroom should be arranged: with large avenues to the teacher can quickly move around. Movement is key, because the most important factor that determines goofing off is physical proximity to the teacher. (This seems certainly less true in Spain, where people are more comfortable with limited personal space, but I imagine it’s quite true in the United States.)

This leads to the lesson. Jones advocates a pedagogical approach that only requires the teacher to talk for five minutes or less at a time. Break down the lesson into chunks, using visual aids for easy understanding, and then immediately follow every concept with an activity. When the kids are working, the teacher is to move around the classroom, helping, checking, and managing behavior, while being sure not to spend too much time with the students he calls “helpless handraisers”—the students who inevitably raise their hands and say they don’t understand. (To be clear, he isn’t saying to ignore these students, but to resist the impulse to re-teach the whole lesson with your back turned to the rest of the class.)

This leads to one of the main limitation of Jones’s method: it works better for math and science than for the humanities. I don’t see how literature or history can be broken down into these five-minute chunks without destroying the content altogether. Jones suggests frequent writing exercises, which I certainly approve of, but it is also hard for me to imagine teaching a lesson about the Spanish Reconquest, for example, without a lengthy lecture. Maybe this is just due to lack of imagination on my part.

When it comes to disruptions, Jones’s advice is refreshingly physical. The first challenge is remaining calm. When you’re standing in front of a crowd, and some kids are chuckling in the back, or worse, talking back to you, your adrenaline immediately begins to flow. Your heart races, and you feel a tense anxiety grip your chest, intermediate between panic and rage. Before doing anything, you must calm down. Jones suggests learning how to relax yourself by breathing deeply. You need to be in control of your emotions to respond effectively.

Then, Jones follows this with a long section on body language. The way we hold our bodies signals a lot about our intentions and our resolve. Confidence and timidity are things we all intuitively perceive just from looking at the way someone holds herself. How do you turn around and face the offending students with conviction? How do you signal that you are taking the disruption seriously? And how do you avoid seeming noncommittal or unserious?

One of the most brilliant sections in this book, I thought, was on dealing with backtalk. Backtalk can be anything, but as Jones points out, it usually takes a very limited number of forms. Denial is probably the most common; in Spanish, this translates to “Pero, ¡no he hecho nada!” Then there is blaming; the student points her finger at her neighbor, and says “But, she asked me a question!” And then there is misdirection, when the offending student says, “But, I don’t understand!” as if they were in a busy intellectual debate. I see all these on a daily basis. The classic mistake to make in these situations is to engage the student—to argue, to nag, or to scold, or to take their claim that they “don’t understand” at face value. Be calm, stay quiet, and if they keep talking move towards them. Talking back yourself only puts you on the same level.

The penultimate section of the book deals with what Jones calls Preferred Activity Time, or PAT. This is an academic activity that the students want to do, and will work for. It is not a reward to hold over their heads, or something to punish the students with by taking it away, but something the teacher gives to the class, with the opportunity for them to earn more through good behavior. This acts as an additional incentive system to stay on task and well behaved.

The book ends with a note on what Jones calls “the backup system,” which consists of the official punishments, like suspension and detention, that the school system inflicts on misbehaving kids. As Jones repeatedly says, this backup system has been in place for generations, and yet it has always been ineffective. The same small number of repeat offenders account for the vast majority of these reprimands; obviously it is not an successful deterrent. Sometimes the backup system is unavoidable, however, and he has some wise words on how to use it when needed.

Now, if you’ve been following along so far, you’ll have noticed that this book is behaviorist. Its ideas are based on control, on incentive systems, on input and output. As a model of human behavior, I think behaviorism is far too simplistic to be accurate, and so I’m somewhat uncomfortable thinking of classroom management in this way. Furthermore, there are moments, I admit, when the job of teaching in a public school feels more like working in a prison than the glorious pursuit of knowledge. Your job is to keep the kids in a room, keep them quiet and seated, and to keep them busy—at least, that’s how it feels at times. And Jones’s whole system can perhaps legitimately be accused of perpetuating this incarceration model of education.

But teachers have the choice of working within an imperfect system or not working. The question of the ideal educational model is entirely different from the question this book addresses: how to effectively teach in the current educational paradigm. Jones’s approach is clear-eyed, thorough, intelligent, insightful, and eminently practical, and for that reason I think he has done a great thing. Teaching, after all, is too difficult a job, and too important a job, to do with only idealism and instinct as tools.

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