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Bookworm: What a pro says about the classroom in ‘Why Did I Get a B?’

‘Bunker’ is end of times open-eyed read

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We're Discussing in the Faculty Lounge”

  • By Shannon Reed
  • c. 2020, Atria
  • $26, $35 Canada; 272 pages

A new pencil sharpener. It felt like a small thing but when you were a student, it was a treasure, along the lines of a 64-count box of crayons and an unsullied notebook. Nothing suggests a new beginning quite like a first day with fresh school supplies but in the new book "Why Did I Get a B?" by Shannon Reed, the instructor may be worn.

“Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We're Discussing in the Faculty Lounge” by Shannon Reed

Being a teacher was never an option.

Not really; Shannon Reed figured that she'd be called to the ministry like her father and his father. Yes, her maternal line featured lots of teachers, but that profession didn't hold much interest to her – until she needed a job and was hired at her father's church's preschool, and she realized how much she truly enjoyed it. She became a preschool teacher and one day, she realized that she'd "been working with kids for years." She headed back to college.

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"And then, just like that," she says, "I was a teacher."

Of course, though, it wasn't that easy. There were lessons to learn: about the tricks of landing a job; about preparing parents for a "Your Child is Broken" talk that gently lets them know Junior isn't perfect; and about trying to teach the child who needs more than an overwhelmed teacher can give. Then there are the really hard things: working through racism and making regretful assumptions about your school's students; embracing small lies as class motivation; and knowing how to find support when everyone else needs it, too.

There are, of course, benefits to becoming a teacher: the time a student finally "gets it." The memorable Christmas gifts, including "eighty-seven... handprint mugs..." The day you see a student as a civilian, and it's weird; and the day you realize that you could be friends one day. These are things Reed savored but any teacher, she says, could tell you more.

"And I'd bet they'd love it if you asked."

Your child adored her most recent teacher because, chances are, that was you. Now fall semester is up in the air, it's only decided-ish, and new backpacks hang in the closet, just in case. So maybe this is a good time to see what a pro says about the classroom by reading "Why Did I Get a B?"

With a wide-ranging look at grades pre-K through college, author Shannon Reed gives readers a funny, factual, forceful look inside the teacher's lounge, behind administration doors, and literally under a desk, in tales that are filled with candor and sometimes pain. Yes, you may laugh but given recent events, you may also find meaning after months of school-at-home. For parents-cum-teachers, in fact, it's not hard to envision using this to help launch the new school year. It's not hard, either, to envision giving this to your favorite teacher.

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Indeed, college freshman with plans of lesson-planning will want to read this book quick, before they start the new semester. Anyone with plenty of class will see that "Why Did I Get a B?" is sharp.

“Bunker: Building for the End Times”

  • By Bradley Garrett
  • c. 2020, Simon and Schuster
  • $28, $37 Canada; 316 pages

Like a good Boy Scout, you're prepared. No matter what today's world throws at you, you're ready. You've laid in a mountain of toilet paper, you've got hand-sanitizer, plenty of pasta, bottled water, and you're good to go for at least two weeks. So now it's time to read "Bunker" by Bradley Garrett. Is there something you might be missing?

“Bunker: Building for the End Times” by Bradley Garrett.

Growing up in the southwest part of the country, Bradley Garrett was always aware of and fascinated by underground shelters. He recalls, as a teen, exploring "a thousand-year-old kiva" and, later, making his knowledge of subterranean spaces into a career.

Most people think of World War II when they hear the word "bunker," but Garrett says that underground shelters have been in use throughout history. Germany, of course, employed bunkers, as has the U.S.: during the Cold War, Americans were encouraged to build bunkers as personal safeguards; our government was doing exactly that for "the elites" then, and it still maintains several state-of-the-art bunkers, in case there's a national crisis.

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While it's likely that those old 1960s back-yard bomb-shelters are junk today, it's estimated that there are nearly 4 million otherwise active preppers here, and many more abroad. Some hope to survive catastrophe by literally going underground to "ride out" the worst for days, or months if their bodies can handle the lack of daylight. Others want to ensure perpetuation of our species, after the rest of us are wiped out in a cataclysmic event. Still others, those who Garrett calls "Dread Merchants," want to make money.

As he suggests, their thought-processing does make sense.

We're in the middle of a pandemic, something that gets mentioned several times as reason to shelter. If things get really bad, there may be horrific panic and violence, or radiation, or war. Sheltering can mean self-preservation, or it can mean selfless sharing.

The bottom line, though, is always this: you can prepare all you want, but "'you can't prepare for everything.'"

Admit it: this year, escape sounds awfully appealing on many levels. They say you can run, but you can't hide, although "Bunker" proves that you can attempt both.

But would you? Author Bradley Garrett met folks who practice different kinds of prepping, from the near-mandatory in Australia, to the $1 million-plus-luxurious here in the U.S., thus satisfying his own curiosity as well as that of his readers. Much of that satisfaction comes from a skeptical POV, but there's room left for argument: Garrett isn't anti-prepping at all; in fact, he helps readers to be charmed by a trio of self-sufficient Appalachians.

Is bunkering the answer, then? As Garrett shows, throughout history, we've been convinced that it was and he allows debate for it again – although readers shouldn't be surprised at what happens here as they get to this books' final pages.

This isn't a tome filled with advice; if nothing, it'll make you question both eagerness and reticence to go underground or bug out. Either way, if you want an interesting, open-eyed read, grab "Bunker" and be prepared.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.