“Hanging In: Strategies For Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most” by Jeffrey Benson (a book review)
Whether or not you teach in a school with students who could be labelled as “challenging”, reading Jeffrey Benson’s “Hanging In” will prove to be time well spent, as any teacher can learn from the gut-wrenching and heart-string-plucking stories in this 180 page, 2014 text.
This book was my final check mark on my “required summer reading” list and I was impressed with how invested I became with the stories and the characters Benson introduced. Each chapter focused on a different student (names and specific details altered to protect the students’ identities) or pairing of students whose stories exemplified a different challenge Benson and his team (at a school for students who typically struggled in traditional educational settings) experienced. It is equally surprising and refreshing to read not just the success stories of his team, but also the raw moments of failure and Benson’s humble analysis of what went wrong for the students that he didn’t effectively reach. More professional resources should acknowledge our failures (big and small), as we all know that everything doesn’t always go as planned or hoped.
From “Hanging In”, I am reminded of the importance of relationships and students feeling truly seen and liked in order to be willing to be pushed by their teachers. But deeper (and perhaps more important) than just the relationship, Benson cautions against teachers counter transferring onto their students (transference is when a students sees a teacher as their parent, so counter transference is when the teacher starts to see the student like their child). In other words, develop close, caring relationships with your students, while still being mindful of the power of projection. Moreover, after reading this book my belief in the importance of working on a supportive team has undoubtedly been strengthened. Those stories where teachers collaborated to understand a student better or looking at a challenging student through their curricular strengths really helped me feel immensely grateful for the kind of teaching team that I am currently on.
This book will be an important member of my bookshelf for years to come and will certainly be covered in sticky notes and pencil markings in due time. I imagine that if we work together, at some point in our relationship, I will loan this book to you, as all teachers can (and should) learn something from these stories.