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Susan Van Kirk publishes book for new teachers

October 8, 2010

Susan Van Kirk, a Monmouth College communication studies lecturer, recently published her first book, “The Education of a Teacher: Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.” The book is a series of stories covering Van Kirk’s 42 year teaching career. Out of these 42 years, Van Kirk spent 34 years teaching in high school and is currently working on year ten at Monmouth College.

Van Kirk said she began writing her book six years ago when one of her students, Kurt Carlson, suggested she put her teaching experiences into writing for preservice teachers. Van Kirk said she filled the book with stories focusing on the kinds of situations teachers may experience.

According to Van Kirk, the stories are creative-nonfiction based on real people and events. She explained that they are told as stories about real people.

“The stories are done in chronological order,” Van Kirk said. “In the first stories, you can see how uncertain I am as a beginning teacher. My students are just four years younger than me. The later stories, however, allow you to see that I have a lot more confidence and I understand better what I’m doing.”

Van Kirk said one of her fears when she began teaching was keeping a roomful of 18-year-olds in line. Van Kirk said she believes this is a common fear shared by all new teachers; therefore, she included a story of this in her book.

According to Van Kirk, the stories are all examples of real situations that can happen to teachers, ranging from a student who overdosed on drugs to a student who came to her house over Christmas and said that her foster father was sexually abusing her to a student dying at a young age.

“Those are issues that you deal with sometimes when you teach in high school,” Van Kirk said. “So then the question is: what do you do as a teacher?”

According to Van Kirk, a student who she taught at Monmouth College experienced two of these situations during her first year of teaching: a student died of H1N1 and a student confessed to be sexually abused at home.

“The stories are about things that really happen in classrooms,” Van Kirk emphasized. “And I think that if you’re going to be a teacher, you need to think about how you’re going to deal with some of those things that come up.”

Van Kirk also said that it is important for teachers to understand that they unfortunately cannot reach every student they encounter.

“They [teachers] can save a few students at a time, but others they’re going to lose,” Van Kirk said. “I think that’s a hard reality of teaching and something that you have to face.”

However, Van Kirk also said that teaching is the most wonderful profession in the world because of the rewards that come after helping change a student’s life and she said she included stories that emphasized that.

“The book is a mixture of all the things you experience when you teach,” Van Kirk said. “I also turned around the idea that teachers’ have a tremendous influence on a student’s life by showing how students affected teachers.”

Van Kirk said she first became interested in teaching because of her 8th grade history teacher, Rowen Aldrich, because she believed he was a fantastic teacher. She also said that she was placed with this same teacher when she began to student teach in college.

“The very man who influenced me to become a teacher is the one I got to student teach with,” Van Kirk said.

Van Kirk’s book is currently being sold in the library as a paperback for $19.95.

Features Editor

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