This year, for the first time in my life, I’ve started paying attention to the books that win awards, so when I saw this book – Themes for English B: A Professor’s Education in and Out of Class – saw that it won the AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction in 2005 and saw that it was written by a guy who teaches at Salem State, a public school probably much like the one I teach in, I thought I should give it a try.
I’m glad I did. The writing is lovely but not flowery or overblown. The stories are real and tragic and glorious and painful – all the things I see in the stories my own students have to tell. The message – if such a book has a message – is true – be real yourself, realize what your students have to give you, and keep working and learning. It’s a book I needed to read at this time in the semester.
Scrimgeour tells tales about the teachers who inspired him, about how he hopes to inspire, and about the times he doesn’t. He talks about the things he says that hope lodge in his students brains and those moments when he just wants to cancel class because he know that no one, himself included, wants to be there on a Friday afternoon. I recognize all these moments, and if nothing else, this book comforts me and reminds me that I’m not alone.
But it’s more than that – it’s a model itself – of a great a teacher, a good writer, and a human who tries to make the best of all things.
While the last section of the book strays away from teaching a bit – into subjects like basketball and a collaborative dance/poetry project – the honesty and straight-forwardness of the writing carry the reader through.
For anyone who has taught or done anything that brings equal parts glory and frustration, this book is a great read.

Themes for English B by J.D. Scrimgeour Cover of Themes for English B by J.D. Scrimgeour