In “Teachers” passion motivates, even when conditions for educators deteriorate.

Cover of Teachers.
Cover of Teachers.

Alexandra Robbins Teachers: A Year in America’s Most Vulnerable and Important Profession opens with this line:

“You may think you know what’s inside, but you don’t.”

And Robbins keeps that promise.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I taught four different high school classes for two years in Austin, which showed me what teachers face. But the problems, policies, and failures of public school districts across the country are as varied as their students, and have been getting worse in recent years.

teachers is a one-year immersion into the lives of three teachers: Penny, a South High School math teacher, mother, self-proclaimed “math nerd” and Star Wars fan who struggled with a toxic culture at work as well as dealing with personal turmoil; Miguel, son of Salvadoran immigrants and member of the LGBTQ+ community, who worked as a special education teacher in the Western United States and fought for his students as an educator and activist; and Rebecca, a 4th grade East Coast teacher who painfully realized that she had no work-life balance and that she hadn’t been on a date in half a century but struggled to take control of her life and make time for activities outside the home. from school. Along with interviews with hundreds of others, Penny, Miguel, and Rebecca – fictitious names created to protect their identities – are at the heart of teachers; their battles, disappointments, triumphs, and heartaches show how the teachers who literally shape our future are constantly fighting financial pressures, authoritative parents, politicians, and the education system at the local level.

Robbins, award-winning investigative journalist, The newspaper “New York Times The best-selling author and education expert has taken a deep dive into the lives of teachers and unearthed the many shortcomings that have been hurting the teaching profession — even before the pandemic — and how it has worsened. teachers attractive and impeccably researched, but also hard to read because it shows how bad things have been lately and makes us wonder (if you were a teacher, you won’t be so surprised) how people stay in a job that is. despite many great moments, it is incredibly difficult.

teachers accomplishes a lot—getting readers into the classroom, showing how politics affects teachers, exposing how terrible things like book bans have become—but two of his biggest triumphs are shattering popular misconceptions about the profession and demonstrating the colossal passion that sustains teachers. As for breaking down teaching ideas, Robbins starts early and never stops. Teachers have a summer holiday! Teachers are paid for ten months and spend their “free time” on certification courses, reviewing lesson plans, learning new curricula, and conducting compliance training. Teachers get paid well! In many places, a teacher earns $30,000 a year after taxes and insurance payments, which means that almost 70% of teachers have to work part-time to make ends meet. In fact, the teacher pay gap “reached an all-time high in 2021 when the Economic Policy Institute reported that teachers in the US are paid 23.5% less than professionals with similar education and experience.” Teachers have a big advantage! Teachers pay higher health insurance premiums than other state and local employees in most states, and there are counties in states like Oklahoma and California where teachers must pay for their deputies when they take extended sick leave. This list has no end.

Demand for teachers in this country exceeded supply “for the first time by more than 100,000 in 2019”. Since then it has gotten worse. The same goes for substitute teachers, and Robbins has done that work for this book. After reading teachers, it’s easy to see why. For example, at Miguel’s Grade I school, there was only one nurse a week, despite the fact that the students were suffering from seizures so badly that they needed an ambulance. In the meantime, the county had enough money to create “a new academy for wealthy white families.” Unfortunately, systemic racism is not something teachers can teach because they are also attacked and censored in what they can teach. In the first six weeks of 2022, “state legislatures introduced more than 100 bills aimed at censoring class discussion about race, racism, gender, LGBTQ+ issues, and American history,” Robbin writes. This is in addition to the ongoing ban on books dealing with issues of race, racism and LGBTQ+ or containing BIPOC characters.

“Politics, greed and mismanagement have made this profession incompatible with physical and mental health,” Miguel is quoted in the book. And he’s right. Teachers have to deal with students and their problems while combining insufficient pay and resources, unrealistic workloads that negate any semblance of work-life balance, and widespread disrespect for the profession, especially from parents. This is costly. Rebecca, for example, suffered from what she called “school puppets,” nightmares about the school that featured the building and her colleagues. Things like this require change, and that’s what Robbins wants.

teachers it is, of course, a revelation, but it is also a call to action, and our common future is at stake.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, reviewer, and professor based in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

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