Raising Ollie

How My Nonbinary Art-Nerd Kid Changed (Nearly) Everything I Know

2021
Author:

Tom Rademacher

The account of one radically new school year for a Teacher of the Year and for his nonbinary, art-obsessed, brilliant child

Raising Ollie is Tom Rademacher’s story of one eventful and sometimes painful school year, parenting his nonbinary, art-obsessed, brilliant child and relearning every day what it means to be a father and teacher. Rademacher reveals how raising a kid changes everything—and how much raising a kid like Ollie can teach us about who we are and what we’re doing in the world.

As vulnerable and honest a piece I’ve ever read from an educator, Tom Rademacher’s beautiful and conversational story ought to encourage more of us to dig deeper and reflect harder.

José Luis Vilson, educator, father, executive director of EduColor, and author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education

Seven-year-old Ollie was researching local advanced school programs—because every second grader does that, right? Ollie, who used to hate weekends because they meant no school, was crying on the way to school almost every day. Sure, there were the slings and arrows of bullies and bad teachers, but, maybe worse, Ollie, a funny, anxious, smart kid with a thing for choir and an eye for graphic art, was gravely underchallenged and also struggling with identity and how to live totally as themselves. Ollie begged to switch to a new school with “kids like me,” where they wouldn’t feel so alone, or so bored, and so they made the change.

Raising Ollie is dad Tom Rademacher’s story (really, many stories) of that eventful and sometimes painful school year, parenting Ollie and relearning every day what it means to be a father and teacher. As Ollie—who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, and prefers art to athletics, vegetables to cake, and animals to most humans—flourishes in their new school, Rademacher is making an eye-opening adjustment to a new school of his own, one that’s whiter and more suburban than anywhere he has previously taught, with a history of racial tension that he tries to address and navigate.

While Ollie is learning to code, 3D model, animate, speak Japanese, and finally feel comfortable at school, Rademacher increasingly sees how his own educational struggles, anxieties, and childhood upbringing are reflected in his teaching, writing, and parenting, as well as in Ollie’s experience. And with this story of one anything-but-academic year of inquiry and wonder, doubt and revelation, he shows us how raising a kid changes everything—and how much raising a kid like Ollie can teach us about who we are and what we’re doing in the world.

Tom Rademacher is an eighth grade English teacher in the Minneapolis area. His book It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching (Minnesota, 2017) was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award. His writing has been published in Education Post, City Pages, MinnPost, and Huffington Post. In 2014 he was honored as Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year.


As vulnerable and honest a piece I’ve ever read from an educator, Tom Rademacher’s beautiful and conversational story ought to encourage more of us to dig deeper and reflect harder.

José Luis Vilson, educator, father, executive director of EduColor, and author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education

Contents


Acknowledgments


Introduction: The Many Stories of Olive


April: School Trouble


May: The Music Teacher


June: Looking for a New School


July: In Denver


August: Open Houses and Kids Like Me


September: The Year Starts


October: The Infamous C Word Conference


November: Art and Weirdos


December: Anxiety Time


January: What Do We Do With Smart Kids


February: So White


March: Lemonade, Mountain Dew, Meth


April: Sex Ed


May: Student Activism


June: The Most Right Thing