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Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow Paperback – March 15, 2009
"The biggest problem with American education is we don't have nearly enough Mr. Barlow's". --Steve Kroft, "60 Minutes"
"A fascinating, well-researched, and insightful exploration of a brilliant but tortured soul. I couldn't put it down."
"I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is fabulous...many of the stories had me in stitches"
"Meyers goes beyond his subject's public persona to create a compelling portrait of this unusual man".
"Sincerity is the reason for the book. It's the strength of this project, and its glory --- this is a labor of love that was worth undertaking"
I probably read more books than some people have hot meals. Most are well-crafted, no author with an ounce of sense would send me a book that is not. Very occasionally, though, I get something that is truly outstanding. "Teacher Of The Year" is in that class. Even though the year is still young, I just know that this book is going to make my annual top 10 list.
Who was Edwin Barlow? That's a great question. To many people he is a complete unknown, to those that knew this enigmatic character he was either your mentor, or tyrant depending on your view. He was a teacher, and a teacher from the old school. I suffered through the English Grammar School system, and I am pretty certain my Latin and English teachers were related to Edwin Barlow.
Edwin Barlow was also the first person to be awarded the `Teacher Of The Year' title. I know author Lawrence Meyers through some Internet email interactions. He is one smart cookie. And Edwin Barlow was one of his high school teachers.
Lawrence has worked long and hard on this biography. Mister Barlow was a deeply private person, and a man that deserves to be recognized. He shunned attention, he lived a monastic life, he terrified his students, and he likely was the best teacher in living memory. He lived the life of a pauper with few possessions, yet in death it was revealed that his estate was more that $400,000, most of which went to help an educational foundation.
Lawrence has taken a novel approach to the format of this book. "Part One: The Mister Barlow I Knew" is exactly that. It is Lawrence's own high school memories and also their relationship afterwards. Some of the stories had me in stitches. Mister Barlow comes across as a tyrannical despot bent on terrorizing his pupils. He had a particularly interesting bedside manner, referring to students that displeased him, which was a frequent occurrence, as `vegetables' or `clods'. My favorite quote though has to be, "Ms, Jones only prostitutes wear purple, get out of my class!"
Somehow I doubt that these tactics could be used in schools these days.
"Part Two: The Mister Barlow You Knew" is a collection of stories by other people who knew him, both as former students, and also colleagues and contemporaries. Once again he comes across as an enigma. Little is revealed about the private life of the man. He seemed to spend virtually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, skulking in his lair at Horace Greenly High School. On Sunday mornings, for example, he could be found at his desk doing the New York Times crossword.
"Part Three: The Mister Barlow Nobody Knew", pulls the veil aside. Lawrence, through grit and determination, followed every lead he could find, and eventually started to unearth the strange story of Edwin Barlow. A World War II veteran, wounded twice. A man with deep-seated religious beliefs who, for a time, gave serious thought of becoming a member of the clergy. A plan dashed by his experiences in the war, Edwin Barlow could not in good conscience join the cloth with blood on his hands. Education became his chosen profession.
The final part of the book, "Understanding Mister Barlow..." analyzes the enigma through his readings and writings. Much can be gleaned about a man by the books he read. Edwin Barlow had a real passion for "Alice In Wonderland". In fact, in a rare interview, when asked if he could be anyone in the world, his reply was Lewis Carroll.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a fabulous story, and the quality of writing is excellent.
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How does one capture and do justice to a person who was not only loved, feared, respected and hated - often at the same time by the same people but also a deliberate enigma to those around him? Lawrence Meyers attempts the almost impossible - and does so in a way that offers fascinating insights, a bit of reasonable and well-researched conjecture that fits the narrative as well as anyone possibly could.
I found myself comparing the book to 'Into the Wild' - hence the title of this review. Another book where the author offers understanding of a person who was an enigma and who's legacy is subject to interpretation. He does so similarly; by including his own experiences as context as well as interviews and experiences from others who knew Mr. Barlow - even as their different perspectives sometimes contradict each other, he allows the story to play out without attempting to reconcile (or judge) the various views of a deeply complex and troubled man. I mention this as similar to how Jon Krakauer approached his subject (in an similar vien to some insight into Chris McCandless' wanderlust, and the contradictions in his character) in response to those who have criticised 'focussing too much on himself' and 'relying on third party interviews' in reviews. It is an effective and highly compelling technique and serves both the subjects and authors well in both books.
I knew Mr. Barlow. I never liked him. This book didn't make me like him more. But it did, perhaps, help me understand him a bit better.
Mister Barlow made it very clear that paying attention was the most important aspect of any learning as well as using the method of having us take dictation when he was teaching a new subject. Learning through the senses of visual, auditory and kinesthetic (movement through the writing) would enable his students to more easily learn the content of his lessons no matter their learning style.
He damanded respect and as such taught us to respect ourselves and the monetary investment our parents made in terms of the taxes paid when in class one day he made a comment to one of the students in class: "Mr. "X" your parents are not paying $3,000 a year in taxes for you to stare out that window. FACE THE FRONT OF THE ROOM NOW AND LOOK AT THE BLACKBOARD!".
I went to a small school outside Boston to study Elementary Education with Moderate Special Needs, and when I would visit home I would usually go visit the high school. On a few occassions I stopped by and spoke with Mister Barlow who had much wisdom to share. He told me that he knew that anyone could teach the smart kids, it was the ones (such as myself) who had learning difficulties that required a master of a teacher to get the most out of them. He also let it be known that he knew that Bill Huppuch was there to give the love after he was a bit more stern on the students. Bill Huppuch came to teach in the resource room my Freshman year (1975)and was a sweetheart of a man who knew how to break down the difficult task of writing long term papers or studying for midterm and final exams into easy to do chunks. Later on Bill Huppuch went on to direct the special school within Horace Greeley High School for the kids who took technical classes at the nearby tech school.
There was on really funny occassion that I experienced in his class during 11th grade. I had his class right after homeroom and it so happened the Student President was in his homeroom. The door was shut and that was never the case with Mister Barlow. If anything the door was wide open until the clock hit the dot of the start of class when it was closed to anyone who may be late. Because the door was shut we didn't really know what to do so we just waited outside his classroom for a few minutes till one of the kids decided to open the door. As each of us filed into the class he told us to get a pass from the principal for being late. We all came back and handed him his passes as we filed by his desk in the back of the classroom. As I handed my pass to him I was giggling. He first responded by glaring at me. I went to my seat and as I sat there he said: "Miss Kellner, control your emotions, there is nothing funny about what happened." It didn't matter to me, I laughed and laughed and he never did get me to control my emotions that day. He never intimidated me and he never made me feel badly about myself, no matter the comments. I adored the man and his teaching skill and obvious care for his students he demonstrated to anyone who noticed all the time he spent at that school after hours. I never saw him there during the weekend, for I had no reason to be at school on the weekends, however, I did see him very late in the afternoon still there still correcting papers.
It was unfortunate that my stories of his class scared my two younger sisters from ever taking his class because as far as I am concerned almost 34 years later, he was perhaps the smartest teacher I have ever had the priviledge to study with and was way ahead of his time in how he used the principles of learning in his classroom.
As a successful business woman who has learned how the mind works through my professional training as a hypnotist and NLP Master Practitioner and trainer, I can honestly say that there were perhaps a few others who came close to what this man offered so early in my development.
I would suggest anyone read this book who would like to learn a bit of wisdom and learn that even those that we tend to put on a pedestal also have their inner deamons and hidden secrets, and yet, look at what they have to give to the world despite it. I would suggest we all have our gifts to give to the world, and as Mister Barlow encouraged Lawrence Meyers, the author of the book to follow his "calling" even if Mister Barlow thought he wasn't using his native intelligence in the manner Mister Barlow would have desired, success and a life of joy follow living your dreams by using your gifts.