Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?, by Ilana Garon
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: 2013
Source: I requested a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I don't know where to start. After seeing Ilana Garon's book, Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?, reviewed on some fellow bloggers' sites (Love at First Book & Words for Worms), I knew I had to read it. Garon teaches high school English in an inner city school and I teach in what we grew up calling a "hick town." So I assumed we wouldn't have too much in common, but I am always up for real life teacher stories. Within pages I found that, although the environment in which I teach is drastically different from Garon's, there are numerous parallels to students and experiences I've had. It's crazy really to think that the same experiences exist in drastically different environments. (You know what they say about "assuming," don't you?)
Garon mentions that her story is one of reality, not of the "hero teacher" type seen in movies such as Freedom Writers and the Ron Clark Story, which although true stories, are so far from the norm. Garon states the purpose of her book best when she says, "It's a story about...learning to distinguish between mitigated failure and qualified success. This is a book about the trial by fire all teachers must undergo, about making mistakes, and about learning from one's own students. It's a book about trying to work within a broken system, while at the same time being bolstered by the very same kids you came in wanting to save" (xvi). I couldn't agree more with the truth in this statement.
Garon's teaching environment is definitely more dangerous and frightening than mine, but as I said before, I related to so many of her experiences. The types of students she describes caused faces and names of my own students to pop into my head from as far back as ten years ago. From the student who told me I looked like a dyke lesbian in front of an entire class my first year, to the student who lied insistently even though he knew you saw everything, to the student I helped clothe and naively attempted to broaden his world only to lose him to suicide the next year. I can even somewhat relate to Garon's realization that she will never be a "permanent resident" of the environment in which she teaches. While her students accept her for the most part, she is "already far too displaced from it all to do anything but empathize" (223). Even teaching in a town identical to the one I grew up in, I have found myself an interloper when faced with students whose lives are nothing I can seem to fathom.
Garon nails the experience. The high and low emotions, the self questioning and doubt, the mistakes, the risks and chances taken, the commitment, the rewards, the satisfaction, the love...and by the end of the book I teared up as she described the decision to quit teaching for graduate school (she did go back after graduating). As tedious as the education system can be, I don't find myself dreading a new school year every August and my thoughts often trail to my students in the off hours of any given day. I wouldn't rather be in any other profession and Garon gives a good example why.
Give a shout out to your great teachers! They deserve it!