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Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity Paperback – October 7, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher (October 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585423777
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585423774
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,720,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When New York City poet Gold arrives at the School for the New Millennium in Jackson Heights, Queens, in February, she's the fourth English teacher her ninth-grade classes have had since the beginning of the school year. The school, meant to be an alternative to the city's overcrowded, underperforming schools, claims to develop "New York City's leaders of the future" and employs the philosophy that in a small school (with only 500 students), "students and teachers get to know each other, work together, and love each other like a family." But, as Gold details in this tiresome, sketchy memoir, the philosophy falters when put into practice, and her students are unruly, angry, bored and not particularly lovable. Some ninth-graders read at a third-grade level; others are smart and capable, yet refuse to pay attention in class or complete homework. A few exceptions emerge (such as one boy who discovers writing and the public library), and Gold receives heroic help from the school's dedicated, supportive humanities teaching staff. Yet the author never gains control of her classroom, one she says she "grew to hate," and though she convincingly describes the anguish of that defeat, her narrative lacks the depth and cohesiveness to make the book compelling or enjoyable. In the end, Gold's afterword sums up what readers have known all along: "I learned what I knew already: I wasn't born to be a high-school teacher," she writes. "I learned that being a teacher is tough.... I had no idea how tough it could be."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In 2000, the author took a job as a ninth-grade teacher at the School of the New Millennium, in Queens. Because students had scored so low on tests in the 1990s, the New York City Board of Education decided to give alternative methods a try; hence the establishment of something called a "New Vision" school--less hierarchical, more inclusive. But, as Gold points out, the plan was doomed to failure: whereas educators tend to swing between promoting self-esteem, on the one hand, and test scores, on the other, the School of the New Millennium tried to endorse both philosophies simultaneously. The result, if Gold's memoir is any indication, was something that looked a lot like any other school, with good students and bad students, cliques and social hazing. But the pressure to create a "new kind of education" made the atmosphere at the school oppressive. Gold's memoir, in which she introduces us to a number of her students, is stylishly written and sharply observed. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the state of public education. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Daniel J. Maloney
If you want a book about classroom management, you can't go wrong with Harry Wong's First Days of School.
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This is a beautifully written and original book and well worth reading!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Christine Wyne on November 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Gold's book made me laugh so hard with intense recognition of my own experience on every page. I couldn't put it down for two days (very rare for me).
I was a similar overeducated idealistic substitute teacher, who in the middle of the year, was placed in charge of an urban Oakland CA eighth grade ESL classroom (the previous teacher had had a nervous breakdown in the middle of class and left abruptly, leaving her students wondering where she had gone). Ms. Gold's description of the difficulty of managing such a classroom with no classroom management skills, no consequences for the student misbehavior, no support from senior administration, insufficient books/materials for her students, no curriculum, etc, etc were painfully similar and accurate to my experience. The teacher I had replaced was a "Teach for America" teacher, the best and brightest of college grads who have been placed in urban schools with 6 weeks of teacher training.
Teaching in an urban school is one of the hardest jobs there is, and it takes professional, emotional, and material support to make it happen successfully. I've gone on to get my teaching credential and to realize how many more years it is going to take to become a master teacher. Elizabeth Gold is a brilliant writer and observer of urban education and its shortcomings and contradictions, and her insights of her four months teaching more than make up for her four months of inadequate "teaching" (which includes managing her classroom which she obviously couldn't manage at all).
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dina on October 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I love a great memoir and I have been combing the shelves for one for months: devils wearing Prada, people climbing Everest, etc etc and I can say for sure they've got NOTHING on Elizabeth Gold. My hat is off to her, not only because she did what many of us underemployed New Yorkers have thought we SHOULD do, that is, teaching in the NYC public school system: she took the experience and wrote a HEARTBREAKING and HILARIOUS memoir about it. One of my favorite passages is when she's lost total control of the class (VERY early on) and she thinks she's seen it all, until 2 students are about to begin necking ARDENTLY, right before her very eyes, (page 43):
"Please, please, I pray, don't let them kiss, I don't want to tell them to unglue those lips, and Tongues, Buster, Are Not For Sharing, but the other part of me is thinking, why not kiss? Who am I to interfere with young love, if that's what it is? Why don't I push a couple of desks together in the back and throw a sheet over them, light some mood candles (though they really don't need mood candles), toss over a pack of cigarettes for after, why don't I make myself useful?"
I was doubled over laughing and when I wiped my eyes I thought "wait a minute: these are my fellow New Yorkers in these schools. These are supposed to be the Leaders of Tomorrow! Boy, are we in trouble".
Gold leaves us forewarned: what's going on in the inner city schools is terrifying. It seems like the problem is far too complex for quick-fix solutions. These kids are angry (as Elizabeth hilariously testifies), and they have good reason to be. They have nothing to say but "I Hate Elizabeth" when she tries to teach them Romeo and Juliet, but ask them about Amadou Diallo and they have plenty of opinions. The book is funny, but it leaves you thinking about racism and inequities in education.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This memoir of one writer's experience teaching in Queens, NY is not, as the book is marketed, about education. Instead, it is about a new teacher's experience within the New York City education system, and about her students and fellow teachers. As that, it works. With wit and candor, the memoir details the writer's encounters with a system on the verge of spiraling out of control.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By mary ann evans on July 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A friend of mine gave me this book, knowing that I was always on the look out for something really smart,really funny,and most of all, really well-written. "You'll love this," she said, pressing it into my eager little hands, and she was right.
Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity is the story of the author's four-month stint teaching English at a "progressive" New York City high school, but before you read another word, you should know this is neither a corny idealistic-teacher-whips-kids-into-noble-shape book or a sociological expose about what's-wrong-with-schools-today. Instead, Brief Intervals is a black comedy about the difference between idealism and reality and life inside an institution---in this case, an institution that should feel both weird and recognizable to us all---high school.
In case you've ever forgotten what it feels like to be really young---say fourteen---this book will remind you.Gold, a poet, has a brilliant ear and brilliant eye, and almost nothing escapes her. Her portraits of the high school bully, the popular kids, the class clown and the class victim, are unforgettable. So are the sympathetic portrayals of the teachers, a multi-cultural bunch who really are trying their best. But it is Gold herself, with her failures, her doubts, her longings, and her flashbacks to her own schooldays, that makes this book a provocative and original delight.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "bookish_self" on October 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity" caught my eye when I walked into a bookstore and saw its bright yellow cover with an old-fashioned schoolgirl-turned-sideways, almost staring out at me. And then I read the title. My son is a student in one of New York's many "magnet schools" that have long and fancy names, names that are ultimately meaningless. When I read the dust jacket and discovered that it's a first-person account of one particular teacher's experience in such a school, I sat down at a table and began reading it. I'm not usually one to buy hardcovers, but I made an exception, this time.
It became my subway reading, after I took my son to school, and then when coming home in the evening from work. I smiled to myself with every page, tickled at the author's excellent humor, directed more at herself and at her reactions to her situation of being a soul lost in the chaos of an urban middle school, than at any of the students placed in her charge. Even so, I felt close to her and to her students, and even to some of the author's fellow teachers. It's not mean-spirited, but it does show some bitterness and longing for something much, much better.
The author's preface is the only weakness of the book, at least from my perspective. It reads awkwardly and seems rather forced, as if her editor might have suggested too strongly that one was needed, and it's really something best skimmed over or ignored, altogether.
This book is not a scholarly study, nor does Gold present it as one. Instead, it's a personal narrative of a woman who had taught thousands of adult students in urban community colleges, but had her socks knocked off by the very different milieu of hormone-rich adolescents who have no choice but to be in school from morning until mid-afternoon.
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