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Review: The Great Expectations School

April 11, 2009


After Dan Brown graduated from NYU’s film school in 2003, he decided to apply to become New York City Teaching Fellow.  The Teaching Fellow program was designed after Teach For America and was started to help cope with the chronic teacher shortage in the toughest schools in the city.  After some summer training, Dan was assigned to teach fourth grade at P. S. 85 , which had a sign over it’s door proclaiming it to be “The Great Expectations School.”  This school is located in the poorest Congressional district in the United States.  Equipped with a quick wit and love of children, Dan went into the job full of hope and enthusiasm.  He ended up with lots of frustration because the administration was not supportive and parents were not involved. His classroom was made up of several bright, eager learners, plus students with problems such as:

  • failing three times
  • couldn’t read their own name
  • being raised by grandparents who couldn’t speak English
  • being locked in a refrigerator for punishment
  • having a twin who had a breakdown because he was molested by their 20 year old brother
  • having parents who are drug users
  • only attending school 1 or 2 days a week

The beginning of the school year was very difficult and when it began to affect Dan’s health, his parents urged him to quit.  He stuck it out even though must of the students came to class unprepared – without needed supplies or homework – and ended up having some of the highest test scores in the school.  After his year at P. S. 85, Dan taught at an exclusive prep school located in another part of the city and the contrasts between the two are striking.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Great Expectations School by Dan Brown.  His compassion and enthusiasm are so apparent.  He is just the type of teacher everyone hopes their child has.  This book gave me a clearer understanding of the problems schools face today and why governmental mandates aren’t working.  The stories of some of these children just broke my heart.  I also found the school’s politics and the governmental regulations frustrating.   This is a book that parents and educators will want to read.

Dan Brown went back to school to become a high school English teacher.  Today he’s married, teaching school, writing for the Huffington Post and working on his next book.

Review copy provided by Hachette Books.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2009 10:05 am

    How have I missed this one? Great review that makes me want to read it. Being an educator, as you know, makes this important to me. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  2. April 11, 2009 10:49 am

    Great review! Definitely makes one want to read it!

  3. April 11, 2009 11:00 am

    Wow — sounds like a terrific (if sad) read.

  4. April 11, 2009 11:00 am

    I just love books like this! I could read Freedom Writers once a year – and I am guessing that this book will fall into that same category.

    Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  5. April 11, 2009 11:27 am

    I’ve never heard of this one Kathy but it does sound really interesting.

  6. April 11, 2009 11:27 am

    oh…i really want to read this book. i’m an educator with experience in weathly and poor districts. thank you so much for posting about this book!

  7. April 11, 2009 12:51 pm

    This sounds like such a great read! There are quite a few teachers in my family and with that comes hearing lots of stories about the negative and positives of the Canadian school system. This book would be very interesting as it’s based on the US school system, which I know very little about.

  8. April 11, 2009 1:05 pm

    The book sounds really interesting and in a similar vein as To Sir With Love, which I loved. I’d like to read it.

  9. April 11, 2009 3:45 pm

    Oh, I’d like to read this; I haven’t heard of it before your review.

    My sister-in-law worked with Teach for America for a while (she’s now teaching an 8th grade class in the Bronx public schools); I’ll have to see if she has read it.

    Thanks for the review, Kathy!

  10. April 11, 2009 4:15 pm

    I love these kinds of books! I applied for a few of these programs but it never works out…maybe I’m not really cut out for this stuff!

  11. April 11, 2009 9:27 pm

    Excellent review and a book that I hadn’t heard of until now. I will definitely be putting this on my TBR list. I’ve worked in the education field for almost 10 years and it is always interesting to hear about other people’s experiences.

  12. April 11, 2009 10:06 pm

    I absolutely love these types of stories! I am adding this to my TBR’s immediately!

  13. April 12, 2009 1:10 am

    That sounds like a fascinating book! One that my friend who is a 1st grade teacher and a parent may want to read. By the way, I’ve given you an award, so stop by and pick it up when you get a chance! You can find it here.

  14. April 12, 2009 4:20 am

    There’s another award for you this week at A Novel Menagerie in the Sunday Salon post.

    Happy Easter.


  15. April 12, 2009 10:42 am

    This sounds like a fascinating book. I haven’t read any books related to the US school system and need to add some to the wishlist.

  16. April 12, 2009 11:44 am

    Thanks for reviewing this book. I’m going to get this for my daughter who just graduated with a teaching certificate. I will probably read it first. I enjoy these kinds of books.

  17. April 12, 2009 4:01 pm

    Sounds like a very good book. It wasn’t even on my radar b/f your review!

  18. April 12, 2009 7:58 pm

    Wow. Sounds like you found a really compelling story!

  19. April 12, 2009 8:39 pm

    Thank you for sharing this book. I think I am going to have to find the money to buy me a copy.

    I was a pre-kindergarten teacher for disadvantaged children for 3.5 years. I finally had to quit a job I loved because the stress was playing havoc on my body. I have fibromyalgia (among a couple of other problems), and stress exasperates all of its symptoms. The stress of dealing with a school board who did not understand and parents and families who treated the school as a free daycare for their child instead of the wonderful opportunity to get a head start for them that it was, was absolutely overwhelming at times.

    I will not say all of the families were difficult because I also had wonderful families who I worked with. I often found (although every case has an exception) that the immigrant families were the most appreciative and the American families acted as if I owed them something without making all the necessary efforts to help their children. You can imagine how frustrating that is for a teacher who has dedicated themselves to helping their child realize their potential and make it so they are on a level playing field with children who could afford to go to preschool or had other advantages.

    I miss working with the children but I know I will not be able to do that job full-time again if I cannot get my health where I need it to be. I think reading this book will find me in the company of someone who understands what I dealt with and what all of those teachers out there who work with these children deal with every day.

    Thanks again.

  20. April 12, 2009 11:04 pm

    You definitely made me want to read this book. As my son begins to enter the public school system, I think this might be enlightening … as well as frightening.

  21. April 13, 2009 12:04 am

    I definitely want to read this one. Thanks for the review.

  22. April 14, 2009 4:09 pm

    I want to read this! Thank you.

  23. April 16, 2009 7:29 am

    Books like this one make me wish that I had gone into teaching–we could definitely use more teachers like Dan.

  24. April 16, 2009 8:25 am

    This sounds really interesting! Thanks for reviewing it. 🙂

  25. April 16, 2009 8:30 am

    Hey, this is Dan Brown, the author. Thanks for so much for reviewing the book! You distilled it very concisely, and I appreciate the kind words as well.

    My email is for any readers who’d like to get in touch. I currently teach 11th and 12th grade English in Washington, DC, and I’m much more sane these days.

    Thanks again!

  26. April 16, 2009 9:09 am

    What a fantastic background story. I love learning about what individuals are doing to improve the education system.

  27. April 20, 2009 6:00 pm

    WOW — that is an awesome author comment!! I just may use his email as I teach 12th grade English and can use all the help I can get 🙂

  28. April 23, 2009 2:52 pm

    Sounds interesting. The only book I remember reading about teachers was Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. I’ll have to keep this one in mind.

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