“The Teachers,” by Alexandra Robbins (Dutton)
The message of “The Teachers” comes into clear focus long before the final words of this 344-page dissection of what’s wrong with American public education, primarily through the eyes, ears and experiences of three teachers in different areas of the nation. Author Alexandra Robbins also interviewed hundreds of other teachers, and many of their voices are here as well.
Robbins paints a portrait of public schools across the country where many, if not most, educational support systems are crumbling or under attack.
Teachers are among the most altruistic and dedicated professionals, but they are leaving classrooms by the thousands.
Here are the challenges teachers cite:
— Salary and benefits follow significantly from other occupations. In addition, many come to school with student debt that will burden their lives for decades. Robbins notes that teachers are five times more likely to take another job than other professions.
— So fundamental resources such as paper and building heating are often not supplied.
– Lots of parents are either disconnected, unable to control their children, consumed by their own demons, or they hunt down and threaten teachers, some seething with rage if their children get a low grade. A teacher who suggested a parent read to their child every day was told “that’s your job.”
— Instead of supporting teachers, some principals pressure them to lower standards to get students to the next grade.
— There is a lack of specialists, and just one student with special needs in a regular classroom can hinder learning for everyone else. The book cites statistics showing that 14% of students ages 3 to 21 are now in special education classes.
– Elected officials are intruding in ways never before seen in American education, mandating, for example, that teachers avoid slavery realities that might make students feel guilty. In 2021, The Washington Post reported that the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty in New Hampshire offered a $500 reward to the first person to successfully catch an elementary school teacher violating the state’s new law on how race can be taught.
The teachers in Robbins’ book maintain their dedication despite all these obstacles, but readers wonder how long even the most devoted can maintain their allegiance to America’s next generation. Robbins gave them anonymity, and it’s impossible to imagine principals and administrators cheering on teachers who shared their daily experiences with Robbins.
One spoke of leaving school each day “completely drained” and usually “crying on the way home”.
“The Teachers” is a call to action that as a nation, as communities, we owe our teachers much more than we give. As Robbins says, “it is urgent that we improve their working conditions before it is too late.”