#877 A primer for modern teachers
You Suck, Sir: Chronicles of a High School English Teacher and the Students who Schooled Him
by Paul Bae
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press (Robin’s Egg Books), 2020
$19.95 / 9781551528076
Reviewed by Myshara Herbert-McMyn
A comedian, podcaster, writer, and actor, Paul Bae also taught English at Vancouver’s largest public school. He co-created and co-wrote the podcast The Black Tapes and is the author and producer of The Big Loop podcast.
His first book, You Suck, Sir: Chronicles of a High School English Teacher and the Students who Schooled Him, caught my eye immediately when I read its brief description. This journal entry-style book is an interesting memoir of one teacher’s experience inside the British Columbia school system. I was soon hooked by the sharp and witty humour that accompanied every story Bae told. The brief stories made me laugh and I couldn’t stop smiling, even when I got to the end. Once I had started it was impossible to stop flipping page after page. The end came far too soon.
The format of You Suck, Sir is simple and fits the sharp bursts of humour perfectly. Each section is named after a month in the school year, beginning in September, and within each of the sections are the conversations Bae had with students, or overheard them having. These snippets stand alone with short and quirky titles to match their hilarity. Bae knows that in the age of the Internet most young people are much more interested in scrolling through their phones looking for memes and other brief and unusual stories. You Suck, Sir fills that want while giving all the benefits of reading rather than staring at a screen. When this is combined with Bae’s brilliant and quirky humour, the book becomes an easy and enjoyable read, and I am sure that others will find themselves unable to put it down.
The sub-title summarizes the content nicely: Chronicles of a High School English Teacher and the Students who Schooled Him. An exchange of knowledge happens between teachers and students that is unique to that relationship. High school is a critical and formative time in a teenager’s life and this book shows an important aspect of a teacher’s role: a mirror. The ability to teach and learn simultaneously belongs to the dynamic between students and teachers. Each student will go through high school only once and learn about school subjects and life lessons from their teacher; but a teacher also learns unexpected and unusual lessons from their students. You Suck, Sir is a fantastic example of all that a teacher can learn from their students. This book reminds me that the roles of student and teacher are two-sided: one learns from the other in order to achieve personal and professional growth.
I want to recommend You Suck, Sir to everyone. Specifically, prospective teachers at the universities in the province should get their hands on it. I am a teacher candidate this year, and I count You Suck, Sir as a valuable preparation to a teaching career. I hope to pass this book on to other prospective teachers around me so that they can benefit from the book’s pertinent insights and from its function as a window into their profession. While students and teachers are among those who will enjoy it, anyone could pick up this book and fall into the quick and quirky stories with no hope of emerging until the last page.
Before reading You Suck, Sir, I had a few moments of hesitation about becoming a teacher. Now I’m excited for the rich, unexpected, and endless possibilities that come with the job. I don’t want to stop learning and now I know that I never will. We should always regard the generations following us as knowledgeable individuals with valuable and distinctive insights into how their lives and their world function. The quest for knowledge is unending, but by learning from younger generations we have a chance to enrich our lives as teachers.
I hope that everyone who reads You Suck, Sir will see how important it is to view ourselves as both teachers and students. We could all benefit from viewing life as a constant and evolving learning opportunity, and from viewing each moment as a chance to teach. Paul Bae’s You Suck, Sir is proof that each person must be open to a constant process of teaching and learning from others to gain a greater knowledge of life. That, like so many other things, begins in the classroom.
Myshara Herbert-McMyn is a teacher candidate at University of British Columbia, Okanagan. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Thompson Rivers University. Previously, with her TRU mentor Ginny Ratsoy, she published Ormsby Reviews of Tim Conley’s Collapsible and Roo Phelps’ 11 Weeks: The Real-Time Chronicling of a Breakup before independently publishing a review of Ruth Daniell’s The Brightest Thing.
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