An aptitude test told Margaret Jenkins she should be a car mechanic. She instead became a teacher and chronicles her career in The Mechanics of Teaching, a book that often reads more like a combination of a personal diary and extensive plans for a substitute teacher than a toolbox for educators.
Mechanics boasts some valuable nuggets for new teachers, but they’ll have to excavate to find them. Jenkins is upfront about her approach: She’s out to tell us about her 13 years teaching kindergarten and first grade in the Midwest, preceded by a healthy dose (the first 30 pages) about her personal life, including everything from childhood experiences in 4H to a series of excruciating hip surgeries. They explain her motivation and approach toward teaching, but they don’t add much for those seeking assistance in the classroom.
That help does arrive midway through the book, when Mechanics takes fewer side trips (page-long anecdotes about Mom, passages that include phrases such as, “Now where was I?”) and focuses on activities for literacy and math. Jenkins is exhaustive in her explanations of such activities, as well as everything from her daily routines to correspondence with parents to how she organizes her classroom and teaching. The back of the book is the most utilitarian, loaded with samples of worksheets, teaching plans, letters to parents and so on that primary teachers can copy and use.
Ultimately, Mechanics is limited by its concept. It doesn’t purport to be an expert guide based on exhaustive research or data. It doesn’t claim — or demonstrate — how to apply Jenkins’ approach to higher grades. It’s simply a personal recollection from one teacher on how she tackles first grade, complete with caveats about how certain units and lessons were dictated by her school district. Readers shouldn’t expect anything more.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.