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Review 55: Learn Me Good by John Pearson

Learn Me Good
by John Pearson
Copyright: © 2006
211 Pages
$16.00 Paperback
ISBN: 9781411665897

Like everyone else, I’m tired of turning on the TV these days and hearing the sad stories about the out of control job losses Americans are suffering from thanks to our dying economy.  For that very reason, I can’t stomach to sit through a news broadcast.  And that’s if I’ve even turned on the TV at all after coming home in the evening.  I’m quite thankful to have a job, but it’s scary to think about what would happen if that changed tomorrow.  I know the hard times are a sad truth we must deal with, but seeing it on the news every single morning and night does not help.

Let’s face it, in the past year alone the self-help aisle in your local bookstore has become overrun with books on how to get out of debt, save money, save your job, and save your house.  YAWN!  We’re getting enough of that (too much, in fact) at home on TV.  So who wants to read about it too?  Didn’t any of us listen to our Economics teacher?  Oh wait, I didn’t read that textbook either. But then there are books like Learn Me Good by John Pearson which offer a different light for all of us.

John’s book will not teach you about 401K plans, stock options and interest rates.  But it will teach you that you should always have hope.  It will teach you to have a sense of humor even during hard times.  It will teach you that it’s never too late to start over, or to start something new.  Oh, and it will show you that teaching math to 3rd graders can be just as tough as Wall Street.

In 2001, John was laid off from his job with a small thermal heating firm in Texas where he had worked for four years.  So, with “plenty of time on his hands and a life to reassess,” he opted to go back to school and get his teaching degree.  He was always good at math and science, enjoyed working with kids, and had always admired teachers.  And so, he became one.

Conference calls have been replaced with parent conferences. Product testing has given way to standardized
testing. Instead of business cards, I now pass out report cards. The only thing that hasn’t changed noticeably is the maturity level of the people surrounding me all day.

After a quick introduction, what follows is a story inspired by John’s real life experiences as a first year teacher.  Names have been changed and certain events have been embellished upon (our main character is named Jack Woodson), but John admits that everything did indeed happen! Now what makes this book unique is the style that it’s written in. The chapters are actually emails to an old coworker at the engineering company, so they are written in a very passive but straight forward voice which is very believable since these guys are (were) engineers and one of them is now a 3rd grade teacher.

The book begins with Jack Woodson writing about how the children dress, speak, how tall they are, how interesting their names are (one child’s name is Sa’tun), and how happy the parents are for their kids to have a “man teacher.”  Most of these are typical grade school traits which you wouldn’t think would be surprising to anyone, teacher or not, but as you read the book just remind yourself of the equation “engineer becomes teacher.”

Outside of the information the author provides in the introduction, there are just a few lines in some of the emails that hint at what his previous job was like as an engineer.  There are brief mentions of quirky coworkers or inside office jokes, but the reader is left to fill in some of the story as there are no replies from the engineer friend he is writing to.  And indeed, that is exactly how emails would read if you were only getting one side of the story. Pearson does an outstanding job though of not making it feel like any details have been left out.

As you can imagine with a class full of 3rd graders, there is no shortage of humor.  Pearson keeps his story moving at a nice pace just by mentioning the many things that can come out of an eight year old’s mouth on a daily basis:

This week, we’ve been reviewing how to count money. The kids get to play with these little plastic coins that look just like the real deal. Yesterday, Marvin asked me, “Before there were quarters, how did people clean their clothes?” It took me a few moments to understand what he was asking, but it finally dawned on me, and I replied, “I guess they just washed them in a river or in the bathtub, and not in a coin-operated laundry machine.” Thankfully, there were no follow-up questions about how people bought Dr. Pepper before there were dimes.

Learn Me Good is definitely a “feel good” book, and not just for teachers.  Anyone who has had to go through a job change or learn a brand new trade will definitely relate.  And I commend John Pearson for taking a modern and honest  approach to his novel by using emails for chapters.

He also deserves applause simply for the marketing approach he’s taken with the book.  Check out his blog for some prime examples of excellent marketing!  There are tee shirts with witty “teacher” slogans on them like, “I teach therefore I am poor.”  There are infomercial-like YouTube videos featuring John himself, and even a chance to guest blog if you want to.  No wonder Learn Me Good is in the top 800 in sales rank on Lulu and has already earned 32 reviews on Amazon..all of them 4 or 5 star!  Congratulations, John!

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