Book by Christina Asquith
Review by  Stephanie Hamington
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Advising
University of Colorado Denver

There are many inspiring stories and movies about teachers who had a dramatic effect on their students.  For example, in Stand and Deliver and The Freedom Writers, an inspirational teacher is able to turn around the performance of a whole classroom of underachieving children and make them into top students.  

The Emergency Teacher is a different kind of story. The author, Christine Asquith, a journalist, with no training in education, describes her year as an “emergency” teacher in a Philadelphia public school.

The introduction states that this book is “an excellent new-teacher training tool.” I would suggest that The Emergency Teacher not be used for new educators; instead, it is a better training tool for administrators and public officials. This book will give administrators insight into the teachers (particularly contingency instructors) who work for them and the struggles these new educators have with day-to-day challenges such as having textbooks for all students and classroom sizes that are too large for effective teaching.

One of the strengths of this book is its investigative style. The reader learns the history and circumstances of the magnet school where the author taught. Asquith explains some of the challenges faced at this school and how teachers were often powerless to make a difference due to administrative bureaucracy. 
There are various programs throughout the country that train contingency teachers for high need areas, e.g., Troops for Teachers and Teach for America. However, to meet this school district’s needs, “teachers” were hired and provided little or no training. Asquith was not provided any training; the book takes the reader from her one month self-instructed, crash course to the end of the school year.

I choose The Emergency Teacher to review because I was seeking a book to inspire and encourage undergraduate students to consider teaching. While the book is very informative regarding how one educational system works (or doesn’t work) my feeling is that this book might scare away students from considering teaching as a career.  

For inspiration I suggest Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers by Ellen Gruwell who describes a trained teacher who makes a difference. The Emergency Teacher is an engaging human interest story that demonstrates the terrible plight of inner city school districts and their resource challenges.  

Gruwell, Erin. (2007). Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers. New York: Broadway Books.

The emergency teacher:  The inspirational story of a new teacher in an inner-city school. (2007). Book by Christina Asquith. Review by  Stephanie Hamington. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing. 232 pp., $24.95 (hardback). ISBN # 9781602391932
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