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Among Schoolchildren

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  1,988 Ratings  ·  159 Reviews
Tracy Kidder -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine and the extraordinary national bestseller House -- spent nine months in Mrs. Zajac's fifth-grade classroom in the depressed "Flats" of Holyoke, Massachusetts. For an entire year he lived among twenty schoolchildren and their indomitable, compassionate teacher -- sharings their joys, their catast ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 1st 1990 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 1989)
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Jul 14, 2008 Nathan rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me by a co-worker. Tracy Kidder is a Pulitzer prize-winning author (for Soul of a New Machine) with a unique style. He basically picks someone interesting, and follows them around for a year or so and records everything they do. He combines that with a lot of research and interviews and then still manages to write a book that reads almost like a novel.

In Among Schoolchildren he follows around Mrs. Zajack, who is a really good fifth-grade teacher in a really difficul
Feb 17, 2011 Tatiana rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Tracy Kidder is a very good writer, so I decided to go back and read some of his older stuff that I had missed. I loved The Soul of a New Machine, particularly because at the time it came out I was working as a programmer on (among other things) a Data General MV6000. This, of course, was back in the deeps of time when computers were quaint steampunkish things with valves snapping and relays clicking. I remember the thing had less than a meg of memory, for instance. We ran a whole insurance comp ...more
Sep 04, 2012 Ruth rated it it was amazing

I was given this book by a teacher that I worked with who told me that it was great. Newly retired, I put it on my bookshelf to read at a future date. I took it out the other day because I have had it for a while and I wanted to read it so that I could return it to her. I am glad that I did!

Having been in education for over 30 years which included the time period when this book was written I found that I could easily identify with the teacher and her thoughts and feelings as described by Kidder
Jul 02, 2007 sydney rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oookay. I wanted to like this because it's about a teacher, but I couldn't. Apparently it's a true story about a year in the life of a fifth grade teacher, Christine Zajac, but it's written by Tracy Kidder in a third-person limited voice. This immediately made me want to know what Kidder's methodology was, but he doesn't enlighten us anywhere in the book. He's (somewhat bizarrely, I think) totally absent from the book. This was probably intended to avoid readers' distraction at wondering how his ...more
Jan 07, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2009
This book shows that teaching is not just standing in front of 25 kids and talking. This book is a window on the emotional struggles that come with teaching. Working in a classroom, I realize the time constraints on teaching students while also wanting to reach them emotionally. Many of the students in this book are economically disadvantaged and the author shows their parents' lack of interest; one of the main reasons why poverty continues generation after generation. It seems this problem not ...more
Aug 23, 2013 Cassandra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read
I this read years ago in college and it absolutely rocked my world. Sadly, I immediately turned around and lent my copy to someone else, who then moved out of the state, and I haven't seen my or any other copy since. (I hope he enjoyed it.) It really is a terrific presentation of the struggles and joys of the classroom. Right now I am volunteering as an English teacher in South America, and this book keeps coming to mind--every so often find myself wondering "How would Mrs. Zajac handle this?" E ...more
Mar 12, 2013 Georgina rated it liked it
Someone left this in my laundry room and I picked it up and promptly devoured it. I don't read much non-fiction but make exceptions for immersion reporting like this one or "Friday Night Lights."

This book, which chronicles a year in the life of a determined fifth grade teacher in a public school, left me desperately curious to find out what happened to the children in her classroom all these years later (especially Judith and Clarence) but Googling has so far not been helpful. I did find out tha
Reed Stratton
Jun 29, 2009 Reed Stratton rated it it was amazing
Immersion reporting is my favorite, and Among Schoolchildren is the immersion reportage bible. Kidder lingers in the back of a fifth grade classroom for one year with a pencil and a notebook, long enough for the children to forget about his presence and start acting real.

Not only is it a gem of immersion writing, but it also validates teachers of all grade levels throughout America as we often forget how important our job is. Kidder shows us that we may not be able to reach every kid in the cla
May 06, 2011 Barb rated it really liked it
I read this many, many years ago but it has always remained one of my favorites because it showed me the life of a teacher - the struggles and successes. I think Tracy Kidder's words speak volumes.

"Good teachers put snags in the river of children passing by, and over the years, they redirect hundreds of lives. Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity togethe
Jul 23, 2013 Aimee rated it really liked it
I came away from this book with an enormous curiosity about how Kidder went about writing it. Mainly, I was struck by his ability to render the reality of teaching so well. I was also reminded that good teachers often have an edge, and are willing to disliked by their students. Sometimes I need a reminder like that!
May 16, 2009 Meade rated it it was amazing
I love Tracy Kidder's work. He has the ability to turn a piece of non-fiction into a riveting tale, and treats the people involved with dignity and respect. He throws himself into a situation and writes about it from the inside, not from the outside like an ordinary journalist would. This one is about a school in Holyoke, and the problems and history of the area.
Aug 07, 2007 Jessica rated it did not like it
So many problems with this book, I don't know where to start. Since it is really a first hand account, it doesn't academically look at the issues of race in the classroom. The writing is limited; too much looking at what Kidder thinks the narrator means. Don't recommend.
Sep 04, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it
So my grandfather lent me this book, since I'm applying to be a substitute teacher and keep having dreams about the little ones I tutored at Govans. It was really compelling. Not flawless, but really good. The journalist eye for detail showed in all the right ways.
Feb 03, 2015 Lauren rated it really liked it

I read this book for a college course in education, and the following is an essay I wrote to review it:

Tracy Kidder’s 1989 book, Among Schoolchildren, is a year-long case study in which Kidder describes day-to-day experiences in Mrs. Zajac’s 5th grade classroom. Kidder divides the book into nine sections, each of which contains around four to six chapters. The case study is organized chronologically, beginning with the section “September” and the start of the year, and ending with “June”. The ma
Lissa Notreallywolf
Jan 14, 2017 Lissa Notreallywolf rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
This is dated, but in someways still fresh. We have had massive educational reforms in theory, but really not much has changed, which is the underpinning of most of this book. Kidder hangs out with an elementary class in an impoverished area that has some economic diversity and a fair amount of racial diversity. Mrs. Zajac, the teacher is Irish, granddaughter of immigrants, teaching the new waves of Puerto Ricans who have come to the Holyoke flats. Her mother was slightly better off than her fat ...more
Dec 27, 2016 Kelsey rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully written and provocative. A wonderful read for anyone heading into the field of education.
Alli Pescosoido
Nov 25, 2016 Alli Pescosoido rated it it was amazing
Read this in college and loved it.
Dr. George H. Elder
Jun 27, 2012 Dr. George H. Elder rated it really liked it
The book relates the yearly experiences of Mrs. Chris Zajac, a fifth grade teacher who works in room 205 of the Kelly School in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Kidder’s greatest gift is his ability to use words that evoke strong emotions as he describes scenes of Zajac’s interactions with her pupils.

Two thousand years ago Cicero advocated the use of descriptive language as a persuasive tool. He felt that an appeal to pathos was most effective when strong “attributes” were attached to an author’s or s
Apr 04, 2011 Hannah rated it liked it
Overall, I was satisfied with this book. The book gives a truthful and straightforward take on what it means to be a teacher in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The author does a impressive job emerging the reader into the life of Chris Zajac in an informative but conversational way. The reader is able to follow her through the year of her current fifth grade class. If a reader is looking for a book with a major climax, however, this book would not be the right one for him or her. The book seemed to be b ...more
Aug 11, 2012 Alison rated it liked it
Shelves: grad-school
I did enjoy this book, mostly the topic. I have a lot of fierce opinions about education, though I haven't read many books on the subject; generally, anything longer than an article would just make me too angry.

I thought this book did well at balancing the personal stories of Chris and her class with the historical/factual details of Holyoke and public education in general. I enjoyed that the book was told more or less chronologically, but that it was also divided into topical sections. I didn'
Vicky Pinpin-Feinstein
Sep 20, 2014 Vicky Pinpin-Feinstein rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Though I am a fan of Tracy Kidder, I did not find this book to be one of his best creations. But if you want to understand what goes on the public school classrooms, this is as close a seat as you can get for "viewing." Kidder sits there among children as they go about their classes, interact with their teachers, one in particular, a Mrs. Zajac, who seems to understand these children more than anyone in the school. She strikes the proper balance between compassion and discipline but also frustra ...more
Daniel L.
The Real Life of the Teacher

In the tradition of Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracey Kidder takes the reader into an intimate world of which few people are aware or appreciate - this time a public school teacher in a working- class immigrant neighborhood. Dr. Kidder gives a very realistic portrait of a teacher in a poor, urban school - there are rewards, to be sure, but they come at the cost of the reality of long school days on the brink of burnout. Mrs. Zajac, the subject of the book is doing h
Jul 12, 2010 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Although I was about the age of the students in this book when it was written and I am now about the age of the teacher, I found Among Schoolchildren extremely relevant and consistent with today's public schools. I am not usually a fan of non-fiction, but Tracy Kidder has me hooked. His books all feel much more like novels but are eye-opening looks into real people's lives. The teacher featured in Among Schoolchildren, Chris Zajac is at once personable, professional, inspiring, and exasperating. ...more
E Wilson
Jun 02, 2014 E Wilson rated it it was amazing

I really liked this book. It covers one school year in
teacher Chris Zajac's class. It shows the challenges and trials
that school teachers in the 1990's up through today face.

After a brief and unsuccessful stint as a substitute teacher,
I have the utmost respect and admiration for teachers.

In Mrs. Zajac's classroom, as is the norm in our schools, the trouble makers get the most attention. She spends a lot of time trying to maintain discipline in the classroom in order to try to teach her stude
Nov 05, 2013 Chelsea rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
I have come to quite enjoy Tracy Kidder's writing. That said I think he is a writer that you either love or hate. So if you have already tried reading Tracy Kidder and didn't love him then this book won't change your mind.

I found this book fascinating from a professional standpoint. I currently work in education in a district that is similar in the make up of the school discussed in this book with it's levels of poverty, migrants, and immigrants. From that point of view it was very interesting
Jul 09, 2015 Ginny added it
It's been more years than I care to count since I read any of Tracy Kidder's books ("House" and "The Soul of a New Machine"), so I jumped into "Among Schoolchildren" with enthusiasm. Kidder never fails to amaze with the way he can make a serious non-fiction subject read like a best-selling novel. His "characters"--a real-life schoolteacher and her class of fifth-grade students--are as engaging as any in fiction. While some of the statistics are most likely dated (the book was published in 1990), ...more
Sarah Hunter
Apr 28, 2012 Sarah Hunter rated it liked it
Recommends it for: students- both of sociology and education
I used to teach in Holyoke, and before I did I read this book. The detail that he includes about the district, the Kelly School, and the neighborhood is very intense; compared to what Holyoke is like now, 25 years later, I'm surprised both by how much and how little has changed. I find the hardest part of this book to get into is Kidder's voice; he never involves himself in any of the stories he tells, even though he is in the room watching them happen. Having taught before, I can't imagine that ...more
Sep 07, 2007 Anna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: teachers, educators, sociologists, city planners
I loved this book! First of all, it's one of the most interestingly written pieces I've ever read.

The author is a third-party (journalist) that observes a veteran teacher in Holyoke, Massachusetts over the course of an entire school year during the 1980s. Although Holyoke is smaller than many larger urban areas, the social and economic problems that are captured and described in this book totally resonate today. The social/racial issues that the author describes translate very well even today,
Nov 01, 2009 Vicki rated it liked it
I couldn't quite figure out why I continued to read this book. It's about a teacher and her day to day life teaching in a poor town in Massachusetts. Today. It was so raw as to the needs and realities of the children, and her ability to reach them. I kept with it because I wanted to know if something 'amazing' happened. But really, the amazing thing is that teachers keep on teaching because they want to in face of insuperable odds. It also became a review of the public school system and how 1) ...more
Jun 05, 2016 Ben rated it really liked it
One of the reasons that I like to read nonfiction by Tracy Kidder (and John McPhee) is the way in which they both manage to treat their subjects as human beings, regardless of their respective jobs, socioeconomic backgrounds, hobbies, etc. Among Schoolchildren is no exception: I felt a deep empathy toward the dedicated teachers in the book (especially Chris), as well as the many different kids in her class. By the time I had finished reading it, I felt relieved that I have not gone into teaching ...more
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Tracy Kidder is an American author and Vietnam War veteran. Kidder may be best known, especially within the computing community, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Soul of a New Machine, an account of the development of Data General's Eclipse/MV minicomputer. The book typifies his distinctive style of research. He began following the project at its inception and, in addition to interviews, spent c ...more
More about Tracy Kidder...

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“Children get dealt grossly unequal hands, but that is all the more reason to treat them equally in school, Chris thought. "I think the cruelest form of prejudice is... if I ever said, 'Clarence is poor, so I'll expect less of him than Alice.' Maybe he won't do what Alice does. But I want his best." She knew that precept wasn't as simple as it sounded. Treating children equally often means treating them very differently. But it also means bringing the same moral force to bear on all of them, saying, in effect, to Clarence that you matter as much as Alice and won't get away with not working, and to Alice that you won't be allowed to stay where you are either.” 3 likes
“It seemed as though Margaret hovered near Alice, aware of Alice when Alice didn't seem to be aware of Margaret.” 1 likes
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