Author Mary Breu reviews Chalkboard Heroes

Below you will find a review of my recently released book, Chalkboard Heroes, written by Mary Breu, author of Last Letters from Attu, the enthralling story of Etta Jones, an intrepid teacher and nurse from New Jersey who traveled to the Alaskan Territory as a pioneer. Etta Jones was incarcerated in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.

Chalkboard Heroes: Review

by Mary Breu

authorTerry Lee Marzell, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teachers and Their Deeds of Valor. Tucson, Arizona: Wheatmark, 2015. vii + 243 pp. Preface, photographs, glossary, bibliography, index.

Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teachers and Their Deeds of Valor is the author’s second book, a non-fiction compilation of innovative teachers who have impacted their students and our society; some names are familiar, others are not. Each profile has been thoroughly researched and includes vivid descriptions that exemplify qualities that make an excellent teacher. The reader can peek through a window and see the teachers’ early lives, watch him or her develop and see what inspired their passion for teaching. The teachers’ voices allow the reader to get a feel for the personalities and qualities of people who encouraged them to become teachers. The teachers in this book demonstrate the essence of what a teacher does; they find ways, sometimes against incredible odds, to reach his or her students and make learning more real as opposed to standing in front of the class and lecturing. Valuable backgrounds and historical events are included. The author’s writing style pulls the reader in by telling something striking about the teacher and that makes the reader eager to find out more.

Horace Mann’s niece, Olive Mann Isbell, was born in Ohio in 1824. Twenty-two years later, she and her husband found themselves at a Mission in California. The Mexican -American War was raging all around them, but Olive continued to teach her twenty students, using “a long pointed stick to draw diagrams on the dirt floor” and “charcoal from an extinguished fire to write the letters of the alphabet on the palms of the children’s hands. And she kept a long rifle by her side, just in case” (Page 2.) One hundred forty years later, another teacher “discovered that much information about the social history of the United States has been found in diaries, travel accounts and personal letters. Just as the pioneer travelers of the Conestoga wagon days kept personal journals, I, as a pioneer space traveler, would do the same.” (Page 187.) The teacher’s name was Christa McAuliffe. The author wrote, “Christa believed that such a journal, which would record space flight from the perspective from a non-astronaut, would demonstrate to students that even an ordinary person could contribute to history in very important ways” (Page 187).

Today, when teachers are in the throes of bureaucratic paperwork, subjected to administrators who make unrealistic demands, respond to parents who question a teacher’s seemingly unreasonable assignments and deal with students who, the teacher knows, come from incredibly difficult home environments, reading about these teachers’ lives will be an inspiration because, in the end, all a teacher wants to do is teach. The common thread woven into the fabric of this book is a quote from Lee Iacocca: “In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have” (Page 1.) Christa McAuliffe understood that message when she proclaimed, “I touch the future…I teach!” (Page 177.)

I recommend this book to teachers of all grade levels. Middle and high school students would also benefit from the author’s clear, concise and correct telling of historical events and people.


Read More by Mary Breu

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Twelve Stories of Heroic Teachers Presented in Marzell’s New Book, Chalkboard Heroes

Marzell-2I am happy to announce that my second book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teachers and their Deeds Valor, has just been released. This new volume presents inspirational life stories about some of America’s most amazing teachers. These educators were not only talented teachers, but they were also pioneers, trailblazers, and social reformers influential in America’s history.

I love to tell stories about outstanding teachers. There are so many phenomenal stories that could be told! I believe that teachers represent the best our country has to offer, and, as a group, they are among the most dedicated, hardworking, and talented people anyone can know. It fills me with joy to be able to share the stories of just a few of the amazing individuals who have made such significant contributions to the lives of so many. And it fills me with pride to know that, every day, talented educators all over the country are making significant contributions to the lives of their students.

You can order Chalkboard Heroes from amazon in print now. Simply click on this link be taken to the page where you can order. The e-book versions will be ready, I am told, in about three weeks. Enjoy!

Best-Selling Author Paul Tough Offers Clues About How Children Succeed

book-children-succeedAs professional educators, teachers often seek to understand why some students excel in class while others do not. In his 2012 New York Times bestseller How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, author Paul Tough offers valuable insights for why this may be so.

Tough makes a convincing case that it’s not test scores or IQ that makes the difference for who will succeed in the classroom and who will not. He argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character—skills such as curiosity, perseverance, optimism, self-control, and resilience. And these are skills that can be taught.

The volume offers an engaging look at why some students can triumph over their obstacles and others can’t. Tough also provides interesting insights about how to help students who have grown up in poverty. The author’s claims are not just suppositions. He cites several recent studies in brain research, and he combines the findings of these studies with his own first-hand observations on the front lines in school reform. This thought-provoking book makes fascinating reading.

Remembering Chalkboard Champion Jaime Escalante

books[4]One of the most well-known teachers in twentieth-century American history, Jaime Escalante, passed away in 2010, but already his story is fading from our collective cultural memory. Recently I conducted an informal poll of the students, and even a few of the younger teachers, at my Southern California high school. “Do you know who Jaime Escalante is?” I questioned them. Almost every one said they didn’t, until I mentioned he was the teacher portrayed by Edward James Olmos in the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver. The recipient of numerous awards and special praise from President Ronald Reagan, Jaime Escalante was a popular and talented teacher who challenged supposedly “unteachable” inner-city Latino students to achieve beyond a level anyone thought them capable of, eventually leading them to unparalleled success on the extremely difficult Advanced Placement Calculus exam. In researching the life story of Escalante for my own book, Chalkboard Champions, I learned some surprising facts about this remarkable educator. For example, the movie never mentions that prior to immigrating to the United States, Escalante earned a degree in mathematics and a teaching credential in Bolivia. Escalante was a veteran teacher with nine years of experience in prestigious schools when he decided to leave his politically unstable homeland and come to America in search of a better life for his family. Once he arrived, unable to speak a word of English, he discovered that his education, training, and experience held no value here. Determined to return to the classroom, Escalante set about learning the English language and earning his university degree all over again. It took him ten years to get back into the classroom, at a significant cut in pay, by the way, but to this dedicated teacher, it was well-worth the hard work. A well-researched and well-written account of Escalante’s life can be found in the biographical bookJaime Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Matthews. For a condensed version of Escalante’s life, check out chapter 12 my volume, Chalkboard Champions. Either way, you’ll find his story compelling and inspiring.

Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Story of Chalkboard Champion Anne Sullivan Macy

5046[1]The Miracle Worker by William Gibson is an iconic piece of American literature that is frequently taught in public schools. Exploring the extraordinary work of teacher Anne Sullivan Macy and her work with deaf and blind student Helen Keller, this award-winning play depicts the exact moment at which, due to Anne’s intensive instructional efforts, Helen was able to grasp the concept of language. This knowledge unlocked a world of isolation for the little girl, allowing her to connect with her fellow human beings, and making it possible for her to eventually earn a university degree at a time when educating women was rare. The scene is sweet. Yet the fifty-year relationship between the teacher and her student was riddled with ambiguity and complexity, as author Kim E. Nielsen demonstrates in her in-depth biography of Anne, Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller, published in 2009. The book is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to know more about this remarkable teacher and the instructional strategies she used that were so unique. You can discover more about this book on at the following link:

Beyond the Miracle Worker

I have also included an abbreviated but concise biography of this amazing teacher in my book, Chalkboard Champions, which can also be found at at the following link:

Chalkboard Champions