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Book Notes: Mrs. Mimi and the Second Grade

Published:  January 7, 2010
Publication Image
It's Not All Flowers and Sausages by "Mrs. Mimi" was published by Kaplan Publishing in 2009.

Have you met Mrs. Mimi yet? She’s a teacher who, under that winking pseudonym, has become something of a blog and Facebook celebrity. Last year, her blog posts were rolled up into a book, It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade, and from what I can tell, last summer she finally pulled off the cloak: She is Jennifer Scoggin, a second-grade teacher at a public elementary school in New York City.The entries on her blog* are laugh-out-loud funny, and the book is too. I had a chance to sink into it over the holiday break.

The caveat on Mrs. Mimi’s blog is that the characters and incidents she writes about “are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.” But that doesn’t mean there’s no truth to them. Yes, I realize that one teacher’s insights and exhortations are not the stuff on which education policy should be built. Nor are the scenes in the book exactly earth-shattering, given the woes that have befallen many inner-city public schools over the past several decades.  But it never hurts to have a reminder of what needs fixing, and this book delivers. Among the many examples that propel Mrs. Mimi’s story:
  • information on student progress and goal-setting that is filed away with no chance of being used to actually help teachers pinpoint areas for improvement;
  • a dearth of communication between administrators and teachers that leads to distrust and redundancy;
  • sloppy test scoring, with answers marked incorrect when they are actually correct
  • report cards “aren’t actually aligned to anything we do during the year;”  
  • field trips that are inexplicably cancelled 10 minutes before buses arrive; and
  • meager and vanishing school supplies.
In sum, the book paints a picture of school dysfunction glossed in highly entertaining (and snarky) prose. For teachers in the early grades, reading it will feel like having one long, hysterical and incredibly satisfying venting session with your best colleagues.  To those of us with children in these grades, reading this book is, well, not exactly a calming exercise. And for those who are pressing for reform in the pre-K through third grade, we have just been handed another map showing how many mountains we must climb.
 
I have to admit, though, that there’s something reassuring about Mrs. Mimi’s tirades too. They show how much an effective teacher can be fueled by those stars-are-aligned moments when kids are really getting what they’ve been taught. And that’s yet another reason why it is high time we increased the capacity for effective teaching – through better teacher-preparation programs, research-based professional development, meaningful coaching, and adequate compensation -- in the primary years.    

* The blog goes by the same inexplicable title: It's Not All Flowers and Sausages. I still haven't come across a good explanation for what this title means, so if any readers know, please illuminate!

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