Thinking about a book’s “other” audience (or: Could What Can’t Wait be “the” TFA novel?)
Somebody recently asked me this question: “Besides teens, who do you think is the most important audience for What Can’t Wait?”
Good question. Here’s my answer: What Can’t Wait wants to be read by middle school and high school teachers with high standards, especially those working in an urban setting or with students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
If I had the funds, I’d send a copy of What Can’t Wait to all current and future Teach For America corps members (especially in Houston) plus all you other awesome new teachers out there. (One TFA teacher told me that What Can’t Wait “should be the TFA novel.” Sweet.) And for folks who’ve been in education for a while, What Can’t Wait might chip away some of the crusty build-up we get after a while in the business.
So basically: teachers, y’all need to get your What Can’t Wait on.
Now, that is not because I wrote with teachers in mind but because What Can’t Wait has something to show teachers about what may be going on outside of the classroom. The hardships students face should not, of course, be viewed as excuses for low performance; we need teachers who challenge students to access resources and be strategic to get things done for themselves in education. But… in my experience, students are infinitely more receptive to challenge (ambitious goals, anyone?) when it’s accompanied by a strong sense of understanding of circumstances they may face.
One former TFA member sent me a message after reading What Can’t Wait saying, “Now I get why some of my best students were absent all the time.”
While What Can’t Wait takes readers into just one set of challenges (Marisa’s), for teachers, it can be the starting place for a more thorough engagement with students as complex human beings challenged by their circumstances. Start imagining their world outside of the classroom, and you start opening up opportunities for connection that can seriously stoke the fires of motivation.