Ms. Moffett's First Year: Becoming a Teacher in America


In summer of 2000, legal secretary Donna Moffett answered an ad for the New York City Teaching Fellows program, which sought to recruit "talented professionals" from other fields to teach in some of the city's worst schools. Seven weeks later she was in a first grade classroom in Flatbush, Brooklyn, nearly completely unprepared for what she was about to face.

New York Times education reporter Abby Goodnough followed Donna Moffett through her first year as a teacher, writing a ...

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Ms. Moffett's First Year: Becoming a Teacher in America

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In summer of 2000, legal secretary Donna Moffett answered an ad for the New York City Teaching Fellows program, which sought to recruit "talented professionals" from other fields to teach in some of the city's worst schools. Seven weeks later she was in a first grade classroom in Flatbush, Brooklyn, nearly completely unprepared for what she was about to face.

New York Times education reporter Abby Goodnough followed Donna Moffett through her first year as a teacher, writing a frontpage, award-winning series that galvanized discussion nationwide. Now she has expanded that series into a book that, through the riveting story of Moffett's experiences, explores the gulf between the rhetoric of education reform and the realities of the public school classroom. Ms. Moffett's First Year is neither a Hollywood- friendly tale of ‘one person making a difference,' nor a reductive indictment of the public education system. It is rather a provocative portrait of the inadequacy of good intentions, of the challenges of educating poor and immigrant populations, and of a well-meaning but underprepared woman becoming a teacher the hard way.

While the story takes place in New York, Ms.Moffett's first year is a metaphor for the experiences of teachers everywhere in America, one that illuminates the philosophical, economic, political, and ideological dilemmas that have come more and more to determine their experience —and their students' experiences — in the classroom.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In the summer of 2000, Donna Moffett changed professions. Responding to a New York Board of Education ad, this middle-aged legal secretary became a teacher. Education reporter Abby Goodnough followed Moffett through her first year as a teacher and wrote a front-page New York Times series about her experiences. The articles registered the gulf between "no child left behind" rhetoric and the harsh realities of the inner-city classroom. Miss Moffett's First Year is an expansion of that award-winning series. This book is neither a made-for-Hollywood feel-good story about "one teacher making a difference" nor a reductive, rhetorical indictment of the public education system. Instead, it is a complex, provocative document about battles won, lost, and abandoned.
Publishers Weekly
When schools chancellor Harold Levy challenged his fellow New Yorkers to "Take [their] next business trip on a big yellow bus" by becoming teachers in the public schools, Donna Moffett, a hardworking legal secretary looking for a way to make a difference, was one of the first to sign on. This unforgettable account of her first year as a first-grade teacher in an underperforming Brooklyn school brings Moffett, her students and her struggles to life. Goodnough's even-handed examination reaches beyond Room 218 in Flatbush's P.S. 92, however: some of the book's most striking pages cover the inspired but hasty inception of the New York City Teaching Fellows program, designed in the spring of 2000 to recruit professionals from other careers to work in the city's most troubled schools. After intense but unavoidably inadequate training in that program, Moffett is given her own classroom full of frustrating, endearing six-year-olds sullen Curtis, unresponsive Melissa and charged with teaching them to read, do math and simply behave. With a keen journalist's eye, Goodnough, a former New York Times education reporter who originally wrote about Moffett for the Metro section (she's now the paper's Miami bureau chief), follows Moffett as she copes with difficult students, ineffective standardized curricula, passive parents, a resentful administration and a host of other problems. This is no Dangerous Minds: the story Goodnough tells is far too complicated for a happy ending, though Moffett does experience success. Rather, it stands as a vital portrait of a dedicated, imperfect woman struggling in an inefficient and underfunded system. Agent, David McCormick. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Written by a former education reporter for the New York Times, this book is somewhat misleadingly subtitled, as it is less about how the vast majority of people enter the teaching profession than about the tribulations of an exceptional woman taking part in a deeply flawed "alternative" route. Ms. Moffett will remind readers of many past first-year teachers, including Jonathan Kozol (whose real-life experience was recounted in Death at an Early Age) and Richard Dadier (whose fictional The Blackboard Jungle is recalled more than once here). Unfortunately, her story lacks the immediacy of memoirs recounted in the first person. Goodnough uses Moffett's story to level familiar criticisms against the bureaucracy of the New York City schools, the intellectual quality of students found in traditional teacher education programs, the relevance of teacher education in general, and the "curriculum wars" that hold teachers hostage to various forms of programmed instruction. In the end, though, Ms. Moffett's story has been told many times before, while the potentially more relevant story of the "teaching fellows" program of which she was a part remains largely untold. Recommended for all libraries as likely to be popular, this is still old wine in a new bottle and provides little new insight either to practitioners or scholars.-Scott Walter, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586483807
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 2/7/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,390,621
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Abby Goodnough spent the last four of her eight years on the metropolitan desk of The New York Times covering New York City schools. In 2003 she was named Miami Bureau Chief. Born in New York City, a graduate of Cornell University, she currently lives in Miami.
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2007

    It's a Story of Human Victory.

    Ms.Moffett was a competent secreatary in law firm. But she wanted to make her life rich. So she challaged to the elementary school teacher. During she had taught there for one year, she struggled with their students and poor school system. As time went by,she realized what was the real teacher throught her real experiences. By teaching them, she came to be maturalized naturally. So I'd like to recommend this book those who are desperate in their life. Also it is helpful for teachers to rethink education.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2007


    This book is a well written, informational book about the poor school districts in New York. The story of Ms. Moffett and her expedition to become part of the struggle of improving the school system is an interesting tale, but this book also holds many facts that can weigh down the unprepared reader. There are many details covering the politics running New York and the corruption keeping the poor districts poor. Goodnough is an excellent author and stays unbiased throughout the book, which leaves the reader to create their own ideas and feelings. This was an OK book, and I have learned quite a bit of useful background on poor school systems. I recommend this book to those doing school projects on the education subject and those students planning on becoming teachers. In fact, anyone can read this book if they please - knowledge can only be gained.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2007

    Political controversy in Brooklyn elementary school

    In the book about Ms. Moffett, Goodnough talks a lot about politics and tragedies that happened at the Brooklyn elementary school. The book is boring, because everything is related with politics from the beginning until the end. Overall, there is not a lot of develop other than politics and economy.

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