Fires in Our Lives: Advice for Teachers from Today’s High School Students
“a carefully crafted and concisely arranged assortment of diverse interviews of high school students in which they attempt to explain the challenges of circumnavigating a rapidly transforming world . . .”
In 2003’s Fires in the Bathroom Kathleen Cushman shed light on what children needed most from education. In this perennial bestseller students from across the country provided perceptive and gave realistic answers to questions of how their teachers could go beyond the barriers of adolescent identity and culture to reach an urban setting of rapidly expanding diversity within schools. It provided a fresh and articulate view of challenging subjects such as increasing engagement and motivation, teaching difficult academic material and at the same time creating a classroom culture of respect and success.
Eighteen years since its publication the environment in which young people are learning has shifted radically. Their world is changing at an alarming pace, and classrooms are simmering with unease and concern. To address these changes, Kathleen Cushman, along with co-authors Kristien Zenkov and Megan Call-Cummings, have written a sequel in which high school students again offer their blunt advice to teachers of how to expand bonds.
Cushman is a co-founder of the nonprofit What Kids Can Do and has written numerous articles that raise the voices of adolescents. Kristien Zenkov is a professor of education at George Mason University and his many writing have focused on teacher education, literacy training, and social justice instruction. Megan Call-Cummings is an assistant professor of qualitative methods at George Mason University specializing in participatory action research.
Fires in Our Lives is a carefully crafted and concisely arranged assortment of diverse interviews of high school students in which they attempt to explain the challenges of circumnavigating a rapidly transforming world where unimaginable change, socioeconomic inequalities and cultural barriers are causing them extreme anxiety and how their teachers can better help.
Reinforced by classroom examples and supplemented with helpful conclusions, Fires in Our Lives is divided into two parts. The first area of discussion explores student interviews of “What Makes School Matter.” Each chapter is organized on themes of individual and group strength, identity and purpose, expectations for the future, and current challenges. These interviews are followed with an in-depth discussion of what teachers can do to better implement these type of ideas into their classrooms.
“As tectonic changes—political, cultural, social and personal—alter the trajectories of their lives, these young people are finding ways to take action in the larger world.”
The second part, “What Youth Can Do,” examines how students can improve their own engagement on issues such as climate change, violence in their communities, gender identity, and immigration. These chapters include both case studies which feature effective student activism and how to incorporate these type of themes into lectures.
“Recognizing . . . in their students’ lives, teachers rightly ask how they can make a difference . . . every school has good teachers doing good work—both in their content areas and in social and emotional areas. By integrating behavioral and academic skills, they are fostering the connection and self-reflection on which deeper learning depends.”
Fires in Our Lives is not simply a compilation of interviews and if the reader only gets one thing out of it, that should be that students have a lot to say about what can better serve them in education. Within its pages are contained straight forward and common-sense approaches to concepts of how teachers can improve navigation within a rapidly changing classroom that involve challenging outside environmental factors. In its simplest form teachers can best serve their students with interpersonal relationships that help them find passion and purpose in the modern world.