After 33 years of teaching, Phillip Done, a local award-winning elementary teacher, is retiring. Done grew up in Sunnyvale and spent many years teaching in the Palo Alto Unified School District, including at Fairmeadow, Addison and Duveneck Elementary Schools. Done is also a published author, having written the acclaimed “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons from Teaching.” This summer, he’s publishing a new book.
Although no longer in the classroom, Done is not finished sharing his bounty of knowledge and skills. His new book, “The Art of Teaching Children: All I Learned from a Lifetime in the Classroom,” is a charming and engaging read that brings together his best tips and tricks for educators of all backgrounds. Done touches on classic topics in pedagogy — Back-to-School Nights, classroom decorations and reading strategies — as well as the pressing issues of the modern teaching world, such as limiting screen time, the “Educator Exodus” and, as Done puts it, “the system’s obsession with testing.”
One of the biggest draws of the book is the way Done organizes and shares what he has to say. To start, the book structures itself like a guidebook divided into sections that cover different teaching topics — “The Children,” “The Classroom” and “The Curriculum” for example. The first section provides a great introduction into why many teachers are motivated to choose this profession in the first place. The next few talk about creating a welcoming learning environment and teaching effectively in all subjects. Many chapters even provide a laundry list of related detailed advice that teachers can draw from. This structure makes the book both easy to follow and practical.
However, despite its overall structure, Done’s book actually reads more as a personal memoir. Done lets his lively, personal stories take the lead throughout the book. Nearly every chapter begins and ends with an anecdote from his 33 years of teaching.
Done gives it all in relevant stories that leave you smiling and wanting more. The dialogue between Done and his children is wonderfully written and extremely illustrative. Done impressively remembers every child’s name and retells times his students have taught him something, made him laugh or even put him in awkward situations.
These conversations between a teacher and elementary school children give Done’s book heart. With chapters titled “Love,” “The Cute Factor,” “Whoa!” and others, Done explains how he uses compassion and wonder in the classroom while also bringing those emotions to our reading experience. The stories are both fun to read and informative. You can clearly tell that the memories Done shares are some of his most cherished moments that have inspired and guided his teaching.
Although working with children is at the core of the profession, Done doesn’t leave out any part of the teaching experience. Most notably, he writes about facing challenges outside the classroom, like workload, exhaustion and work-life balance. Done stays honest with readers and tells vulnerable stories of his own struggles and failures as a teacher.
For current educators, it’s possible you already know or use some of Done’s strategies. However, the book may still be worth it. The stories themselves are alluring, and it can be both enjoyable and important to hear stories from other educators. It is a nice reminder that everyone is facing the same challenges. At the same time, every teacher teaches differently and it can be revealing how Done approaches different situations. It may be argued that Done’s advice transcends the classroom and teaches us to be better empathetic communicators and lifelong learners. Hearing from one 33-year veteran teacher may provide a new perspective or a slightly different way of doing something that improves things in the classroom and beyond.
“The Art of Teaching Children” is a must-read for veteran educators, aspiring teachers and parents alike. Even if you don’t fall into any of these groups, the book reveals and helps you to appreciate everything teachers do. If you’re interested, be sure to pick it up before Back-to-School season springs up on all of us once again.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.