I recently finished reading The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching by Penny Kittle. I picked it up because I read Write Beside Them last semester and absolutely loved it. I saw her name on the cover page, and I knew it was for me. I dove into reading with high expectations. Penny Kittle did not disappoint.
The book is broken up into chapters dedicated to monumental moments in the classroom. Each of these chapters is written as reflective essays. Penny Kittle walks readers through the highs and lows of her teaching career. She describes rambunctious third graders, an alcoholic 5th grader, a girl who writes of abuse, and many students who rise above the challenges they face to explore themselves as writers and people.
Penny Kittle explores how students discover themselves as writers and thinkers. She does not just look through the curriculum; instead, she reaches through it to encourage emotional and explorative writing. She looks past her classroom as just students, and is able to see them as individuals who are each struggling, changing, and growing.
I want to be a teacher who is able to make a positive impact in the lives of my students. Before reading this book, I hadn’t given much thought to the difficulties that teaching may entail. Penny Kittle led me through what I might expect. As I was reading, I felt the weight of her obstacles and crushing failures, and when I though I couldn’t take anymore, I felt the euphoria of her successes.
The Greatest Catch has confirmed what I’m afraid of. Teaching is messy. There will be ups and down, but Penny Kittle showed me to learn from the downs, and take joy in the ups. She showed me that I will fail the first try, but that with practice and familiarity comes wisdom.
Not only is this book deeply encouraging, it is also incredibly practical. At the end of the book, Penny Kittle shows her own process on writing the essay chapters. She walks us through her methodology, brainstorming, and revising. Readers get to look into the mind of a phenomenal writer as she explores her writer’s block, her insecurity, and her eventual success.
I would highly recommend this book to aspiring and new teachers. Penny Kittle prepares us for what we may come up against–beautiful or heartbreaking.