Book Review: Entertaining an Elephant

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Many of you are teachers, and many more of you have children, grandchildren, or at some point in time are expecting to have them.  A few months ago I went to a Common Core Conference, at which Dr. Bill McBride presented strategies to help teachers implement Common Core Standards.  His presentation style was just as interactive and fun as any I have attended.  I also purchased the book , If They Can Argue Well, They Can Write Well, a step-by step instruction manual on teaching students how to develop an argument. 

Entertaining an Elephant, on the other hand is a fictitious book about education, and I warn the reader to have a Kleenex or two nearby.  (That was clever, I wasn’t sure about how to pluralize Kleenex.  Putting es on the end, just didn’t look right, and ‘s did, but ‘s indicates belonging, so just a simple rewording solved my problem.  YEAH!)

by William McBride
by William McBride

Written by William McBride, Entertaining an Elephant documents the metamorphosis of a seasoned, but jaded teacher who encounters a new janitor that changes his life.

“Reaf wasn’t allowed to leave for a half hour, and he decided not to let the janitor run him out.” p. 7

His tired attitude helps you dislike this teacher right from the start.  He thought he knew what the kids needed, and I can just hear his gruff voice speaking to the peon janitor.

“You see, I’ve been in the business for a long time, and even though these kids have had a lot of schooling, they still don’t have the basics.  I don’t know what those teachers are doing at the lower levels, but these kids can’t tell a participle from a noun.  So I take it upon myself to make sure they understand grammar.  None of the other English teachers spend that much time with it, so it’s up to me to hammer it in.”

If that wouldn’t make a student want to take his class, I don’t know what would!  I’m sure the other teachers loved him just about as much as the kids did.  Every teacher loves to think their teaching taught the kids all they were expected to learn that year plus a little more.  They NEVER like to hear that the kids FORGOT any some of it – or worse, they never had time to teach it, or worse still, they taught it, but NOBODY got it.

The janitor was a wise, wily fellow, though, with some tricks up his sleeve.

“Unfortunately, most of them don’t use the grammar.  That’s why they’re going to be failures, which proves my point.  But that’s between you and I.”

“Me,” the janitor said.

“Yes, you.”

Who else would I be talking to, thought Reaf.  …then suddenly (he) realized the janitor had corrected him.  It is between you and me. … the teacher threw the grammar book he had been holding …

I have to admit that, as a teacher, I want to make sure my kids learn grammar, but I’ve also made MY share of grammar errors as an adult with lots of education.   In fact I’ve made the very SAME mistake that Reaf made.  It was embarrassing the first time I made it, sitting at a dinner table with a movie star, no less – and corrected by HIM.  It was worse the third time I said it.  And I was the EDUCATOR, but the star seemed like a Reaf to me, and he didn’t earn a fan that night.

So where did Reaf throw the grammar book?  What did the janitor do to cause the teacher to change?  What made the teacher so irritatingly uninteresting in the first place?  Why would you want to find out?

I’ll answer the last question for you.  Reaf learns and practices some new teaching and relationship strategies as the book progresses which change his life, but most of all HE changes, and the story is heartwarming.  Common sense strategies are easily employed by anyone, teachers or non-teachers, who want to see improved relationships and motivate others to learn.

The real question is, will YOU cry at the end?

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You must read and enjoy Sierra Foothill Garden if you want to learn more about the plant life in my neck of the woods.  This blog is more focused than my streaming thoughts site.  We really do get snow in the mountains and higher in the foothills than I am.  Sue has a handy list of California bloggers in her sidebar, which I am going to find helpful.  If you want to get more familiar with California, this is one place to start.

If you have already read the book Entertaining an Elephant, how did your react?

  • I threw the book across the room.
  • I cried.
  • I planted the book to see if I could get it to grow.
  • I gave it away at a White Elephant Christmas party.
  • Other responses

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Entertaining an Elephant”

    1. Thanks. It’s an easy read. I’m not a fast reader, and it probably took me two or three hours, maybe a little longer, but it’s definitely not a challenge. It is inspiring, though. Stone Fox, a children’s book, was another one that did that to me. Have you ever read it?

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