"Teacher" was first published in 1963 to excited acclaim. Its author, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, who lived in New Zealand and spent many years teaching Maori children, found that Maoris taught according to British methods were not learning to read. They were passionate, moody children, bred in an ancient legend-haunted tradition; how could she build them a bridge to European culture that would enable them to take hold of the great joy of reading? Aston-Warner devised a method whereby written words became prized possession for her students. Today her findings are strikingly relevant to the teaching of socially disadvantaged and non-English-speaking students.
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This book is not a tough read, but it will be hard on people not ready for messy redemption stories. Once I read this story I kept coming back to it in many conversations and gave several copies away to others over the years. I eventually got the local movie theatre to play the film about her life story. The reason I found this work so intriging is that she describes how children discover language reading and writing in an environment where they have less than nothing. These children value stories that express their fears, excitment, power, sex and violence because thats all they know. Those things are their lives. Undersatnding that this is what they want to express she uses their drives to let them make stories and tell their lives. In this way they are interested and compelled to express more and more. Their abilities broaden and they are able to read and write in all areas. Acceptance and eventual redemption are the themes.
I first read this book in 1965, and it has not lost a bit of significance in the last 45 years. Along with "Summerhill" by A.S. Neill, this ranks as one of the two most important books ever written on the subject of elementary school education. These two books should be required reading for anyone seeking a teaching credential. It would also be beneficial to anyone home-schooling their children. Ashton-Warner proved that all the blather put out by the teachers unions calling for smaller class sizes and more money spent on didactic materials is complete balderdash. If you have small children, do yourself a favor and read this book. Then you'll know what course to take when it's time to put your kids into a school system.
Foreword by Maxine Hong Kingston
Life in a Maori School