The Great Expectations School


“With introspection and good humor, Brown tells a lively and often appalling story…a vivid depiction of just how hard first-year teaching and its implicit lesson that urban schools urgently need to attract and retain more thoughtful and dedicated people such as Brown.”

The Washington Post Book World

“[Brown is] an appealing and sympathetic figure with a seemingly genuine talent for teaching… yet he finds himself in charge of a class that is always on the verge of chaos…”

The New York Times

“I loved reading this book. Dan Brown has not only the teaching gene, but the writing gene. His account of a year in a tough classroom is one of the best that I have read.”

—Diane Ravitch, author of
The Death and Life of the Great American School System

“A lively and searchingly intelligent work on urban education which is also a vivid and compelling story of the highest possible political significance at this moment in our history. Parents and teachers alike will be grateful to Dan for his disarming honesty.”

—Jonathan Kozol

“Brown's persistence… earned him a range of experiences that allowed him to become a clear-eyed and trustworthy guide to the inescapable everyday social problems with which so many public school children live. If we want to ameliorate some of these problems we need to know what we're dealing with and acknowledge the impact of poverty on students. We also need to try to keep bright young people like Brown teaching in our public schools.”

Chicago Tribune

The Great Expectations School
] is not only a great read, it's a vivid portrait of the teacher retention challenge… Each student in Dan's class becomes someone the reader cares about—they all deserve the finest teachers and those teachers deserve a system that supports them…”

—Susan Fuhrman, President, Teachers College, Columbia University

“Among the many first-year teaching accounts, it's one of the best. [Brown's] students sparkle with life, and his tales from the classroom shimmer with real-life stress and inspiration.”

NEA Today

“In [Mr. Brown's] book, we see that good teachers are the linchpin to solid reform.”


“Brown chronicles his first year teaching with heart, humor, and disarming candor.”

Scholastic Instructor

“My favorite first-year teacher memoir.”

—Roxanna Elden, author of
See Me After Class

“Mr. Brown has written a compelling and engaging story full of the joys, sorrows, absurdities, terrors, and treasures of becoming a teacher.”

—on Snyder, Dean, Graduate School, Bank Street College of Education

“Powerful and moving… Dan Brown has a story that we need to hear—and respond to.”

—Deborah Meier, author of
The Power of Their Ideas
In Schools We Trust

“Mr. Brown's a hell of writer in his own right, and he's just published a wallopingly good book -- his first, which is difficult to believe.”

The Jewish Exponent

“A compelling, scary, funny, touching look at urban education in the US.”

Christian Science Monitor

“Touchingly, Brown's dedication and imagination helped save those kids—and himself.”

The Sacramento Bee

“Dan Brown's heartfelt account of the thrills and frustrations of a first-year teacher grips like a novel. A must-read for anyone who has dreamed of a job that makes a difference.”

—Anya Kamenetz, author of
Generation Debt

“A riveting human drama full of heroes and villains, humor and tragedy. Brown is an exciting new talent and his writing is so clear and suspenseful that the pages turn themselves. I couldn't put this book down.”

—Clara Bingham, co-author of
Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law

“A compelling and illuminating journey through the American public education system… Brown's highlights the personal success-stories—the dedicated teachers, the kids overcoming massive odds—he encountered on the way. One finishes reading
The Great Expectations School
wishing those in charge of public education in this country spent less time administering overvalued standardized tests on students, and more on inspiring those students to truly learn. A good way to start would be listening to teachers like Dan Brown and some of his colleagues.”

—Scott Anderson, author of
Moonlight Hotel
The Man Who Tried to Save the World

“A powerful, heart-breaking story that challenges our image of inner city schools and the children who populate them. Important and moving,
The Great Expectations School
grabs your attention from the first page and refuses to let go.”

—Gilbert M. Gaul, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist

The Great Expectations School
splashes some ice-cold reality on usual policy pabulum that comes from inside-the-Beltway.”

—Barnett Berry, co-author of
Teaching 2030
and President, Center for Teaching Quality

“A poignant portrait painted with skill… Read it and weep—and wonder no more about the human dimensions of the achievement gap.”

—Gene I. Maeroff, author of
Building Blocks: Making
Children Successful in the Early Years of School





A Rookie Year
in the New


Foreword by
President of the American Federation of teachers

Copyright © 2007, 2011 by Dan Brown

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Arcade Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

Arcade Publishing books may be purchased in bulk at special discounts for sales promotion, corporate gifts, fund-raising, or educational purposes. Special editions can also be created to specifications. For details, contact the Special Sales Department, Arcade Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018 or
[email protected]

Arcade Publishing® is a registered trademark of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.®, a Delaware corporation.

Visit our website at

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

ISBN: 978-1-61145-033-0

Printed in the United States of America

For my Mother, Sonandia, and Colleen
My rescuers, in the order that I met them


Author's Note

Cast of Characters


From the Floor to the Moon

What Do You Want Us to Do?

The Disharmony

Motivation into Submission


Courage Bear

The Dentist Is In

Stressed and Assessed

Mr. Brown Can Moo

Teacher Dance Party

Nothing Cannes Stop You Now

Teacher Gone Missing

Teacher Found



Author's Note

This book shares the journey of a teacher and the life of a classroom: an intersection of youth and experience, energy and discipline, empowerment and failure. As the drafts developed, and I circulated my work to teachers from a broad scope of backgrounds and school environments, I realized that the essence of my story did not stem purely from my own idiosyncratic misadventures in the classroom. Some inner-city teachers I know only vaguely have thanked me for articulating
stories.The insights and issues, whether systemic or personal, that spring from this narrative may pull back a curtain on a sector of our society that is largely invisible. One year with class 4-217 in the Bronx's P.S. 85 can illuminate the mushrooming crisis in lower-class America and the individual specks of hope that may propel us to act, or at least to care.

The contents of this book are based on my notes and recollections, though many names have been changed to protect privacy, and in a few circumstances real people have been merged into composite characters.

Cast of Characters

P.S. 85 Teachers

(* rookie teacher)


Allie Bowers

1st grade:

Trisha Pierson

Aaron Rose

2nd grade:

Corinne Abernathy

Andrea Cobb

3rd grade:

Elizabeth Camaraza

Janet Claxton

Sarina Kuo

Stacy Shanline

Tim Shea

Carol Slocumb

4th grade:

Karen Adler, 4-110

Marnie Beck, special ed

Edith Boswell, gifted Performing Arts Class

Dan Brown
, 4-217

Pat Cartwright, 4-219

Catherine Fiore, 4-210

Melissa Mulvehill, 4-220

Cordelia Richardson

Wilson Tejera, bilingual

5th grade:

Cheryl Berkowitz, gifted Performing Arts Class

Paul Bonn, 5-110

Evan Krieg, 5-205

Marc Simmons, 5-207

Jeanne Solloway, 5-213

Prep teachers:

Fran Baker, literacy

Ethel May Brick, literacy

David de la O
, computers

Deborah Friedberg, gym

Adele Hafner, science

Wendell Jaspers
, floater

Wally Klein, librarian, union rep

Ava Kreps, art

Valerie Menzel, computers

Cat Samuels
, social studies

Jim Zweben, gym

P.S. 85 Administrators

Dom Beckles, Success for All coordinator
Kendra Boyd, principal
Barbara Chatton, new-teacher mentor
Al Conway, math coach
Rhonda Cooper, payroll secretary
Len Daly, Mr. Randazzo's assistant
Marge Foley, literacy coach
Sonia Guiterrez, assistant principal
Mr. Joe, security
Helen Kirkpatrick, special ed coordinator
Julianne Nemet, health clinic staff
Bob Randazzo, assistant principal
Diane Rawson, assistant principal
Marianna Renfro, special ed coordinator (summer)
Nurse Tina, nurse
Dilla Zane, regional superintendent

Class 4-217 Students

Sonandia Azcona
Deloris Barlow
Cwasey Bartrum
Asante Bell
Seresa Bosun (enter in January)
Joseph Castanon
Evley Castro
Gloria Diaz (enter in March)
Gladys Ferraro
Dennis Foster
Tayshaun Jackson
Reynaldo Luces (enter late September)
Maimouna Lugaru
Fausto Mason
Julissa Marrero
Bernard McCants
Verdad Navarez
Athena Page
Lakiya Ray
Destiny Rivera
Edgar “Eddie” Rollins
Eric Ruiz
Manolo “Lito” Ruiz
Tiffany Sanchez
Jennifer Taylor
Epiphany Torres (enter in January)
Hamisi Umar
Daniel Vasquez (enter in late September)
Clara Velez (enter in April)
Gladys Viña
Marvin Winslow (enter in late September)

Other P.S. 85 Students

Corrina Castro-Fernandez,Visual Arts Club
Lilibeth Garcia,Visual Arts Club
Jihard Gaston, Mr. Rose's class
Dequan Jones, Karen Adler's class
Mary, Kimberly, Asonai, and Sayquan, Pat Cartwright's students
Jimmarie Moreno-Bonilla, summer school
Thankgod Mutemi, Janet Claxton's class
Theo Payton, Mr. Rose's class
Jodi West,Visual Arts Club
Kelsie Williams, Success for All student

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