The Student News Site of Everett High School, Everett MA

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The Student News Site of Everett High School, Everett MA

The Crimson Times

The Student News Site of Everett High School, Everett MA

The Crimson Times

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School community reacts to unauthorized self-published memoir by unassigned teacher

Christopher Wright
In order to write a fair story about the book, journalism students read and took notes on the whole thing, as well as interviewed many students and staff for their reactions.

Note: Any opinions expressed in this article do not represent the school, school district, or The Crimson Times.  The Crimson Times is an independent product of student journalism with a goal of reporting newsworthy school events in a fair and unbiased manner. We have decided to withhold names of students and faculty interviewed for this story for the sake of their privacy.   

Many members of the school community were surprised this spring to hear that a book had been published about working at Everett High School.  

Unfortunately, instead of providing a balanced look at the struggles and accomplishments of one of the most diverse high schools in the state, the book seems to spread a lot of insulting and unauthorized descriptions of teachers and students.  

The book, called “Confessions of a Grateful Substitute Teacher,” was written and published by Barry Norman, who had been working as an unassigned teacher for the past three years.  

Norman has not returned to work since news spread about the way he portrayed both students and colleagues in a negative way in the book and how the thinly-disguised names he used for people in the school did little to hide their identity.

The book is currently available for sale on Amazon and is described as “a testament to resilience, adaptability and the profound connections that can be forged in the unlikeliest of places.” 

As of early June, the book was ranked #644,941 in book sales on Amazon, and #396 in Educator Biographies. A billboard advertising the book is being displayed in June on Route 1 South in Saugus near Northeastern Fence. The book has currently received 9 ratings on Amazon so far and has an overall rating of 2.8 out of 5. 

One of the reviews claimed that Norman “would make fun of other teachers and students.”  Another called it a “vindictive, creepy, attention-seeking journey.”  Others said it was “horribly written and contained extremely personal stories of students” and that the “storytelling was terrible and contained several spelling mistakes.” 

On the other hand, some reviews praised it for “detailing the interaction of young personalities of second-decade millennium students, both US-born and recent immigrants, as they struggle for survival and forging identities in the soup of over-crowded classrooms.”

Crimson Times reporters spoke with Norman briefly on the phone recently to ask him why he wrote the book and what he thought of peoples’ reactions to it.   During the interview, Norman told us that he was currently not allowed to talk about the book to us, but said he would get back to us if he could at a later date. 

In the book, Norman details his previous jobs and how, in his 60s, he found himself lacking a firm retirement plan and needing to return to the workforce.  He says he “never wanted to become a teacher” and “had no idea whether he’d like teaching,” but that he came to “love it.”

He details many of his experiences filling in for different teachers in different subjects that he had little experience teaching.  He admits many of his minor faults and mistakes, such as how he “never could remember anyone’s name” and “needed help from other teachers in the building to lead the way for him.” 

He told stories about how he sometimes “yelled in German to get students’ attention,” found “bathroom passes embarrassing to write” and how he was scared of grabbing a student [to break up a fight] and being accused of an inappropriate action.

He called the school “way over its capacity by a mile” and described the hallways as always crowded by students. He describes fights in the school and at one point likened it to “more of a mob territory than an actual school.” 

At the same time as portraying the school, other teachers and students in a largely negative light, he also describes himself as becoming an “iconic” figure in the building whom many students “started using in the capacity of therapist.”

Many students and teachers were not happy or did not agree with the way people were portrayed in the book.  Some felt that certain people’s privacy had been violated.

“I don’t like his book at all,” one freshman said. “I think his comments about students are kind of weird, but I don’t really know the context of what he meant. I also don’t like that in one of the chapters he talks about how he thinks he’s better than one of the biology teachers.”

One student who believes they were featured in the book said that, although they did not feel their own privacy was violated, they understood where others were coming from.  

“I was worried about certain things he would disclose but he did keep it pretty brief for my description,” the student said.  “He just kinda explained that I went to him for stuff, so nothing really big, but depending on certain students he definitely did talk about personal factors that should not have been stated in the book that could lead to students reporting him and going to the school. I don’t think some of them are going to be happy about what was said about them in the book.” 

“Some of it is provocative,” one teacher said. “He gives an unflattering description of some of the events that have happened and it is unflattering to certain staff members. I can definitely see them being upset about that.” 

“I would not have written this book if I were him,” the teacher added.  “I think that he put himself in a position for nothing good to happen.” 

Another teacher noted that Norman “may not have been very discreet about changing people’s names and some of that may have been offensive to some of the students and teachers here.”

While many were upset about the contents of the book, others defended Norman’s desire to express his experiences and opinions. 

“I think the book is fair,” one student said. “It’s about his life and experience with the school. He should be allowed to express what he thinks, but it definitely could have a bad impact.”

“From what I’ve heard the book was negative toward certain people, but that’s also his opinion which is valid,” another student said. “The book seems fine because it’s his personal experience with the school, but I haven’t read it yet.”

Apart from the book itself, many students had mixed experiences about Norman in their interactions with him during his time working for the school. 

“So, my personal experience with Mr. Norman was not very good. But in his defense he was thrown into a very difficult situation with having to teach geometry which he never taught before,” one sophomore said.

“I honestly think that he was a normal substitute teacher and seemed happy with his job,” one student said. “He interacted with the students respectfully.

Another student added, “I don’t have anything negative to say about him, but he does dress weird sometimes. I’d say he was fair and I haven’t seen him cross the line in any way. He was funny too.”

“I found him very aggravating,” one freshman said. “He mostly talked about his personal life and never really said anything other than that.”

“But even though I found him mostly annoying, he had good parts about him,” the freshman added. “I found him to be an interesting guy. He dressed up in various colors, almost a different suit, with different designs everyday. I don’t remember the exact reason, but the way he talked about his clothes in a positive way was really nice. He wanted it to be a positive thing so that was cool. He had many stories so he always had something to talk about. It was something new everyday.”

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