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Book Review: How to Lose Your Self of Steam & Other Teaching Lessons I Never Learned From Professional Development by Carol Richtsmeier

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Just the title alone, by Carol Richtsmeier was enough to lure me to the kitchen table to read. The lighthearted title that began on the front cover continued throughout the book as the author shared bits and pieces of her journalism teaching experience. The red and white hard-covered book looks like those dreaded composition books that we all had in school. It’s smooth, glossy and inviting.

Reading the book was a slower process than I planned. It’s an easy read, lots of great images, messages, illustrations and stories; however, I choose to read one or two stories and then chew on them a bit. Then find my bookmark and read a few more. I was in no hurry. It was like doling out cookies… once they’re gone, well…

The book is loaded with ‘richie-isms’ that come in handy when needed. A richie-ism is a quip or utterance made by the author (Richtsmeier aka Richie) and kept alive by continued use. One quip in particular is “Big Fat Stupid Head.” When in the mist of anger, deadlines, frustration and perhaps during moments of clarity this richie-ism can sum everything up in a nice little package. The saying wears on you and then slowly at first, rolls off the tongue… and truly becomes a term of endearment.

When a richie-ism is used, it’s important to see behind the person and understand where she is coming from at the moment. To shout, “If you don’t get this paper done, I’m going to cut off your heads and put them in the freezer, and you won’t like it, not one bit,” gets you to wondering how the stars were aligned for Richie at that instant. And yet, getting the words out, regardless of how silly they sound help to create an atmosphere of equality in the room. The frazzled statement leveled the playing field and it becomes clear everyone is nuts. Sometimes a student needs to know her teacher is koo-koo, too!

The layout of the book weaves clever illustrations, cheat sheet snippets, chapter terms, a bit of art here and there into a book that flows like a lesson plan. Regardless of who is teaching or learning the lesson, the message unfolds in an easy writing style.

Carol Richtsmeier won the 2005 National Courage in Student Journalism Award from the Newseum and in 2002 she was awarded the Texas State Journalism Teacher of the Year.

This book will not teach you how to be a better teacher, person or educator nor will you get any sort of professional development ideas. But you will get a glimpse of students who continue to win awards and publish top notch papers. I just wish Richie had shared some of her journalism lessons/secrets with me. As long as she doesn't pull out her red pen when she reads this, I think I'll be okay.

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About Marge Katherine Mercurio

  • http://www.learnmegood.com Mister Teacher

    I too read Self of Steam recently and really enjoyed it. Carol and I are both teachers in Texas who wrote books and who started blogging around the same time, so when she announced her book, I wanted to be one of the first to grab it. I like the look of the book — you mentioned the dreaded composition book; I think it also looks kind of like a high school yearbook — and the “chapter terms” were a lot of fun.

    A great recommendation for a Christmas present!