Conversations with Great Teachers
Now in Paperback

Conversations with Great Teachers

Bill Smoot
Distribution: World
Publication date: 4/30/2010
ISBN: 978-0-253-00432-1
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2011 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection
In the spirit of Studs Terkel's Working, Bill Smoot interviews master teachers in fields ranging from K–12 and higher education to the arts, trades and professions, sports, and politics. The result suggests a dinner party where the most fascinating teachers in America discuss their various styles as well as what makes their work meaningful to them. What is it that passes between the best teachers and their students to make learning happen? What are the keys to teaching the joys of literature, shooting a basketball, alligator wrestling, or how to survive one's first year in the U.S. Congress? Smoot's insightful questions elicit thought-provoking reflections about teaching as a calling and its aims, frustrations, and satisfactions.

Author Bio

Bill Smoot teaches English at the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California, where he has received the Outstanding Teacher Award.


"Smoot's precise questions and thought-provoking follow-ups capture the essence of teaching from those who do it best." —ForeWord Reviews

"Smoot seeks to capture the universal underpinnings that animate that mysterious mixture of art, science, and intuition that every effective teacher brings to his or her classroom. As these teachers try to describe the ways that they bring their students to understanding, whether that understanding is of history, surgery, acting or prison counseling, one cannot help but be moved by their creativity and passionate commitment." —Klingbrief

"I have spent most of my adult life talking to great teachers. Every one of those interviews has been a delight. Read this fine book and you can get the same thrill." —Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist and author of Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America

"Rich with passion, knowledge, and story, this engaging collection of interviews not only illustrates ways teachers become great; it conveys the energy and care they bring to their calling." —Sydney Lewis, oral historian and author (with Studs Terkel) of Touch and Go

"These are interesting, thought-provoking, and funny interviews with great teachers of every style and subject area. It's a fascinating book to read and reread." —Todd Whitaker, author of What Great Teachers Do Differently

"Bill Smoot has accomplished something quite extraordinary: he has interviewed master teachers from all walks of life and prodded them to reveal one secret after another. In so doing, he has opened a new door for all educators to improve their work with students. . . . a must-read book for any teacher, regardless of the context in which you work. Highly recommended!" —Grant P. Wiggins, President, Authentic Education and co-author of Understanding by Design

"Conversations with Great Teachers reads as a wonderful lesson from the heart about teaching, faith, humanity, and passion. . . . Generous in scope, significant in voice . . . an invitation well worth saying yes to." —Bodie Brizendine, Head, The Spence School, New York City

"A lifetime achievement. . . . It is clearly conceived and written by a dedicated teacher who expertly interviews great teachers. . . . An inspiring work of art." —Susan Hoffman, Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, University of California at Berkeley

"Within these pages is a vast treasure of teaching wisdom. . . . A deeply thoughtful and inspiring book." —Robert Kunzman, author of
Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling

"In times of world struggle and conflict, what could we possibly need more than wise teachers? Bill Smoot's book is a labor of loving care and deep attention. A great gift for teachers and students everywhere and for the learning and hope which sustains us." —Naomi Shihab Nye, Poet, writer, and educator

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Table of Contents


1. Teaching in the School Room
John Faggi, prep-school English teacher
Lynette Wayne, first-grade teacher
Steven Levy, fourth-grade teacher
Kathleen Engle, middle-school physical-education teacher
Deirdre Grode, seventh- and eighth-grade language arts and social studies teacher
Paul Karafiol, high-school math teacher
Mike Auerbach, high-school biology and chemistry teacher
David Lazerson, special-education teacher

2. Teaching in the College Classroom
Eric Mazur, physics professor
Ellen Peffley, horticulture professor
Father Thomas Buckley, theology professor
William Gass, philosophy professor
Susan Moeller, journalism professor
Jack Metzgar, teacher, adult education

3. Teaching the Healers
Leslie Hilger, teacher of residents in dermatology
Allan Friedman, professor, undergraduates and neurosurgery residents
Craig Campbell, teacher, psychiatry residents

4. Teaching the Creators and Performers
Alexandre Sacha Pavlata, teacher, circus arts
Suki Schorer, ballet teacher
Keith Carter, photography teacher
David Kelsey, piano and voice teacher
Lan Samantha Chang, creative writing teacher
Martin Landau, acting teacher

5. Teaching the Fixers and Makers
Kina McAfee, instructor, apprentice carpenter program
Ralph Salemme, high-school teacher, heating and plumbing
Dieter Schorner, professor of baking and pastry arts
Doug Butler, teacher of farriery

6. Teaching the Athletes
Tom Nordland, teacher of basketball shooting
Arthur Lane, fencing teacher
Mike Hileman, alligator wrestling trainer
Mark Wolocatiuk, racecar driving instructor
Ron Washington, major league baseball manager

7. Growing the Body and Spirit
Lokita Carter, Tantra teacher
Jan Chozen Bays, Zen teacher
Robert Smith, professor, divinity school
Catherine Rose, exotic dance teacher
Tlahuitollini (Ernesto Colín lvarez), Spanish teacher, Aztec dance teacher

8. Teaching at the Bottom and on the Edge
Jeannette Riley, teacher, the Clemente Program
Betty Martin, teacher in women's prison
Shaina Traisman, meditation and yoga teacher in jails and prisons
Rhodessa Jones, teacher in women's jails

9. Teaching the Protectors
Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Fuson, drill instructor, Marine Corps
Rob Magao, martial-arts teacher to civilians and law enforcement personnel
Vince Dunn, teacher of firefighting
Kathy Mitchell, teacher, FBI Academy

10. Teaching in the Corridors of Power
Michael Ansa, corporate consultant
Emil Jones, political mentor
Michael Bell, corporate consultant
Hannah Riley Bowles, professor, executive education programs
George Shultz, political mentor
David King, director, Program for Newly Elected Members of Congress