Former teacher pens new book

Published 12:03 pm Saturday, October 11, 2008

FRANKLIN—“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

These words appear in two places — in the middle of Robert Browning’s 1855 poem, “Andrea del Sarto,” and as the quotation for the title page of Howie Soucek’s new book, “Notes on Education.”

The book originated with a series of letters Soucek wrote in the ’80s. Back then, he was a middle school teacher in Middlesex County, Va. He was burned out and frustrated. The problem wasn’t with the kids in his class, but rather with an educational system that he perceived to be not doing its job well.

He looked at the lay of the land and didn’t like what he saw — ineffective teachers and administrators being tolerated, not shown the door; school system administrations closing themselves off from the community; lowered expectations for student performance; apathy among parents; districts not treating the teachers in their employ as professionals.

The letters, Soucek said, were a way to vent.

“I didn’t do much with the letters until 2006, when I wrote a review for a book a friend was writing,” Soucek said in a self-penned review of his book. “I wondered if I could get my ‘Notes’ published as a book.”

As luck would have it, someone was very interested in publishing his “Notes”: Teach Services, which is based in Brushton, N.Y.

“(My book) just came out,” Soucek said. “The publisher is marketing it across newspapers, libraries and bookstores. That doesn’t mean it’s going to appear necessarily in every store nearby. How soon that will happen, I don’t know. But I do know that it is available on and”

In his book, Soucek offers solutions to the problems he sees embedded in the educational system. The publisher notes that his solutions are not a “one-size-fits-all program, but (they) are purely a starting place within the community for serious discussions that will lead to constructive actions that (will) benefit our children and their future.”

Soucek is now a human resources manager for Manry Rawls Insurance in Franklin. His wife, Linda, is an English teacher at Franklin High School. They also reside in the city.

He looks back with reverence on his days as a middle school teacher.

“Middle school students can see right through you,” Soucek said. “They knew which teachers really cared about them, and cared about education — and which ones did not, which ones were doing it just for a job. They know.”

He also emphasized that teaching can be a rewarding career. But it’s not an easy one.

“There is no job I can think of that is as responsible, exhausting, stressful, frustrating, than the job of being a good classroom teacher who cares about the youngsters and learning and their future,” Soucek said. “No job exacts the toll to the extent it does on good teachers.”

“For lackluster teachers, it’s a perfectly easy job. For poor teachers, it’s a piece-of-cake job. And the system allows them to continue doing damage in the classroom year after year. For the really good teachers, it’s an unbelievably difficult and challenging job.”